icon-arrow-down icon icon-arrow-fill-down icon icon-arrow-next icon icon-arrow-prev icon icon-tag-close icon
Handwashing 101
You probably don’t think you need to read about handwashing. Most of us assume we have expertise in this customary activity. However, many Americans aren’t making the grade when it comes to this simple but necessary task.

The problem is that most people aren’t as attentive to handwashing as they should be. After conducting a survey of 1,000 adults, the Soap and Detergent Association gave Americans a “C-” on its “Clean Hands Report Card.” They found that 68 percent of Americans don’t wash long enough to effectively dislodge dirt and remove germs, 36 percent fail to wash their hands after coughing and sneezing, 31 percent don’t wash before eating and 8 percent don’t wash after using the restroom.

Observational studies—where researchers watch behaviour rather than asking for self-reports—suggest that people overestimate their diligence when it comes to handwashing. One study revealed that 17 percent of Americans don’t wash their hands after using public restrooms. A survey of American elementary school teachers found that many children are less likely to wash their hands with soap than do their homework!

Teaching effective handwashing to all family members is one of the smartest things we can do. After all, the centres for Disease Control reports that frequent handwashing is the most important preventive measure we have for reducing the spread of germs and avoiding getting sick.

To reduce the transmission of disease, read over the following list to ensure that you follow proper hand hygiene. Next, make sure to teach and reinforce these techniques to your children.

Hand Hygiene Techniques

1. Wet your hands first with running water before reaching for the soap.

2. Vigorously rub your hands together to make lather. Do this away from running water to avoid washing away the suds.

3. Wash the front and back of your hands, between your fingers, over your thumb and across your fingernails.

4. Continue for at least 15 seconds. Teaching your child a song to sing while handwashing can help to reinforce this timing.

5. Rinse your hands thoroughly in warm running water.

6. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer.

7. When in a public restroom, use a paper towel to turn off faucets and to open the door when exiting.

8. If you’re without soap and water, use a hand sanitiser, either as a gel or in the form of wipes. Sanitizing gel will get rid of surface bacteria on your hands but won’t remove visible dirt.

In addition to teaching your family how to wash your hands, it’s important to reinforce when to wash up:

  • After using the restroom, changing a nappy or assisting your child with bathroom activities

  • Before and after eating, preparing or serving food and before setting the table

  • When hands look visibly dirty

  • After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose

  • After playing with pets or other animals

  • After touching something contaminated, such as a trash can, cleaning cloth or soil

  • Upon arrival at work or home

Following these simple techniques will minimize the transmission of infections around your home, at school and at work. Indeed, when it comes to keeping the doctor away, regular handwashing is more effective than “an apple a day.”

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist