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Proper Hand Washing: All You Need To Know

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza · Updated Nov 10, 2020

    Proper Hand Washing: All You Need To Know

    Touching is a natural part of our lives. We touch to explore our world, handle things, and interact with people. Touching also exposes us to many kinds of germs and bacteria, however.

    We can pick up these harmful microorganisms with every touch. The best and simplest way to protect ourselves is to wash our hands thoroughly and often. 

    Proper Hand Washing Technique should be part of our daily routine — this is something we’re taught at home and in school.

    Yet a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that people fail to wash their hands correctly 97% of the time.

    That’s a frightening report especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing when and how to wash your hands can make a significant difference in your health.  

    Proper Hand Washing Technique: How to Wash Your Hands 

    proper hand washing technique

    Washing your hands is easy — just lather soap and water. It’s important to know, however, that rushing the process will still leave germs on your hands. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following steps for hand-washing:

    • Wet your hands with clean, running water. It doesn’t need to be hot water since what’s important is the soap. Apply soap.
    • Rub your hands together to make a lather. Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
    • Scrub well for at least 20 seconds. It helps to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to know how long to wash your hands.
    • Rinse your hands well under running water.
    • Use a clean towel to dry your hands, or air-dry your hands.

    If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer or alcohol-based hand wipes that contain at least 60% ethyl alcohol or isopropanol.

    Carry one or both with you when you travel, and keep them in your car or purse. These products can help reduce the number of germs on your hands and the surfaces you touch, but they do not get rid of all types of germs.

    If you use sanitizer, rub your hands and fingers until they are dry. This usually takes 20 seconds. The alcohol  kills many types of germs on your hands but not all. As soon as you can find a sink, wash your hands.

    Proper Hand Washing Technique: When to Wash Your Hands

    The novel coronavirus has everyone hyper-aware of washing their hands.

    It’s recommended that you wash hands after being in a public place and touching things and surfaces that are frequently touched by other people, like door handles, tables, office desks, and grocery carts.

    It’s also a good idea to wash your hands after using your phone or shaking hands.

    Even though you’re at home and believe you can’t be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, you should still wash your hands especially in the following situations:

    • During cold and flu (influenza) season. Wash your hands often when it’s flu season. This simple act can reduce your risk of catching a cold or the flu.
    • After you sneeze or cough. Wipe your nose to prevent spreading any respiratory illness you may have.
    • Before, during, and after preparing food, especially when preparing poultry, raw eggs, meat, or seafood. This reduces your risk of catching or spreading bacteria that cause food poisoning.
    • Before you eat, to prevent contaminating your food with bacteria. It’s also a good idea to wash hands after you eat, to keep food particles and grease from the furniture which can attract disease-bearing bugs and rodents.
    • After going to the bathroom or changing diapers. Do this to reduce your risk of catching or spreading infectious diseases such as salmonella or hepatitis A.
    • Before and after you care for someone who is sick or immunocompromised 
    • Before and after you administer first aid such as treating a wound
    • After touching an animal, animal waste, pet food, or pet treats
    • After handling garbage and taking out the trash

    Reasons Why You Should Wash Your Hands

    proper hand washing technique

    Washing your hands frequently can bring many benefits to you. Here are three reasons why you should wash your hands:

    1. Washing hands prevents illnesses and the spread of infections

    Many germs, like Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus, are transmitted via fecal matter, while respiratory illnesses caused by the family of coronaviruses are spread through sneezing and coughing.

    These germs can get onto your hands if you don’t wash your hands properly after using the bathroom or after sneezing or coughing into your hands. You can then spread these diseases when you touch commonly used surfaces.

    You may also pick up these germs  you happen to touch objects that were touched by an infected person.

    Hand-washing with soap is effective in removing germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:

    • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth and make us sick.
    • Germs from unwashed hands can get into food and drink while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply on some types of food or drink, under certain conditions, and when consumed can make people ill.
    • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.
    1. Hand-washing promotes a healthy community

    Teaching people about hand-washing helps them and their communities stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that hand-washing education in the community:

    • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31%
    • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
    • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%
    1. Hand-washing helps battle antibiotic resistance

    Preventing illnesses reduces the amount of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. Hand-washing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related illnesses and about 20% of respiratory infections.

    Antibiotics often are prescribed unnecessarily for these health issues, resulting to the overuse of antibiotics – the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world.

    Proper hand washing technique can also prevent people from getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and that can be difficult to treat.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza · Updated Nov 10, 2020

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