The Science of Washing Your Hands – Best Practices to Prevent Illness

COVID-19 is what every one around the world is talking about. The virus is spreading at an alarming rate, having now found its way to every continent, except for Antarctica. Doctors are saying the easiest way to help stop this spreading, is simply washing your hands, and washing them correctly.

Why Is Washing Hands So Important?

You would be surprised how many germs live on your hands. And not just normal germs, fecal germs! These germs can get on your hands, for the obvious reason, using the restroom or changing a diaper. However, you can get fecal germs on your hands in less obvious ways, such as handling raw meats that will inevitably have invisible amounts of animals feces on them.

According to the CDC, a single gram of human feces, which equals about the weight of a paper clip, can contain one trillion germs. If others are not washing their hands, these germs can transfer if people touch any object. Germs, other than the fecal kind, can also transfer to others through coughing or sneezing on items or in their hands then touching objects. When these germs get onto hands and are not washed off, they can easily be passed from person to person, making it easy for disease to spread.

How Does Hand Washing Prevent Disease?

Washing your hands WITH SOAP removes germs from hands. This helps the prevention of infections being spread because people frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without realizing it – making it easy for germs to transfer into the body. Unwashed hands can also easily get into foods and drinks during preparation, allowing germs to opportunity to multiply, resulting in illness.

Teaching people about good hand washing practices helps them and their communities stay healthy. The CDC says that proper hand washing education in a community:

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%
  • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%
  • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%

Best Practices for Washing Your Hands

Black light of how washing your hands has on huge impact on germs

You have probably seen this photo circulating the internet. Kristen Bell made it popular when she posted it to her 13.3 million followers on Instagram early March – showing how large of an impact it has washing your hands for at least 30 seconds with soap.

Steps for Washing Your Hands

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (it can be warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. If you sing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice, it’s the perfect timer. Or click here to find other songs to sing for the same amount of time.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Germs can live on your towels at home too!

Washing your hands stops germs - CDC provided.

Can My Hand Sanitizer Replace Hand Washing?

Nope! But it does help as an extra step of precaution. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water whenever possible over just using hand sanitizer, because it reduces the amount of all types of germs and chemicals on your hands.

However, if this option is not available, using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help deter you from getting sick and spreading germs to others. That is because hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Sanitizers also cannot always remove harmful chemicals, like pesticides and heavy metals.

For More Information

The COVID-19 situation is exceptionally fluid. There is new information being presented every day. Stay connected with the CDC and WHO for the latest notifications. Also stay connected with your local government for how your area is handling the situation.

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