Hand Washing 101: What IS the right way to wash to remove germs and bacteria?

Hand washing is one of the key methods for infection prevention, and its importance has been highlighted this past year due to the pandemic.

Things like the COVID-19, the common cold (influenza), and other diseases can be easily passed along to others simply because you forgot to wash your hands after sneezing. Regularly washing your hands can prevent harmful pathogens (such as bacteria and viruses) from spreading between individuals. If you fail to properly remove these pathogens, you could be putting yourself and others at risk of catching an infection.

When to Wash Your Hands 

It’s important to wash your hands regularly, but in particular

  • When you have been to the bathroom
  • When you have come in contact with bodily fluids, such as after coughing or sneezing
  • Before preparing or eating foods
  • Before and after treating an open wound
  • After touching an animal
  • After handling trash

Hand Washing Methodology

Here are some simple steps to follow to properly wash your hands (handwashing 101).

  1. Wet your hands with clean, warm water.
  2. Remove your hands from under the tap and apply soap.
  3. Rub your hands together to lather up the soap. Make sure to cover all areas of your hands, including the backs, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  4. Wash with the soap for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have a timer or have no idea how long this truly is, you can sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song or say your ABCs twice all the way through.  This is a great barometer of the time you need.
  5. Rinse off the soap with clean water.
  6. Turn off the water using a paper towel or using your elbow. This ensures you don’t contaminate your hands again with a dirty tap.
  7. Use a clean paper towel or air dryer to fully dry your hands. If you use a paper towel, throw it away in the bin. Most bins have foot pedals that open the lid so that you don’t have to use your freshly cleaned hands.

Cold water is not as effective as warm water when it comes to killing and removing pathogens. On the other hand, using hot water can damage the skin, leaving it dry and cracked. If the skin cracks, this can give harmful particles a route directly into the body, which increases your risk of getting an infection.

If You Can’t Wash Your Hands

Although clean water and soap are always the best option to get rid of as many pathogens as possible, these things are not always available. In these cases, hand sanitizer can be used.

Any sanitiser that you use should be alcohol-based and should contain at least 60% alcohol. Most hand sanitizers will have the alcohol contents on the label, so be sure to check this before buying and using any.

Some things to note when it comes to using hand sanitisers include:

  • Not all hand sanitizers are safe.  Check the CDC list before purchasing them.
  • Look for a hand sanitizer that is at least 75% alcohol.
  • They may not remove every harmful pathogen from your hands.
  • They usually do not remove chemicals like heavy metals or pesticides.
  • They can contain chemicals that may be irritating to the skin. If your hands start to become red, sore, or start to itch, find an alternative sanitizer that does not contain these irritants.
  • They often do not remove dirt or grease from your hands.
  • Be careful not to touch your hands to your mouth and avoid licking your hands after applying hand sanitizer, as they contain chemicals.
  • Keep them away from children to ensure they do not consume any of the product.

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