Dec. 1st-7th is National Handwashing Awareness Week
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs. The guidance for effective handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer was developed based on data from several studies. (Microbes are tiny living organisms that may or may not cause disease. Germs are types of microbes that can cause disease.)
Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Why? Because hands could become re-contaminated if placed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use, clean running water should be used. However, washing with non-potable water when necessary may still improve health. The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation.
- Turning off the faucet after wetting hands saves water, and there is data to prove whether significant numbers of germs are transferred between hands and the faucet.
- Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs.
- To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap. As a result, FDA issued a final rule in September 2016 that 19 ingredients in common “antibacterial” soaps, including triclosan, were no more effective than non-antibacterial soap and water and thus these products are no longer able to be marketed to the general public. This rule does not affect hand sanitizers, wipes, or antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.
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. Why? Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, lifting dirt, grease, and microbes from skin. Microbes are present on all surfaces of the hand, often with a particularly high concentration under the nails.
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Why? Of the few studies on handwashing times that exist, nearly all have measured reductions in overall numbers of microbes, some of which can cause illness. The optimal length of time for handwashing is also likely to depend on many factors, including the type and amount of soil on the hands. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that washing hands for about 15-30 seconds removes more germs from hands than washing for shorter periods.
Rinse your hands well under clean, running water. Why? Soap and friction help lift dirt, grease, and microbes—including disease-causing germs—from skin so they can then be rinsed off hands. Rinsing the soap away also minimizes skin irritation. Some recommendations include using a paper towel to turn off the faucet, but there are no studies to show that it improves health.
Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Why? Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; therefore, hands should be dried after washing. Studies suggest that using a clean towel or air-drying hands are best.