One hygiene habit that every one of us is taught during our childhood is to wash our hands. Handwashing is a very easy way to prevent contracting infections and ward off illnesses.
But in reality, many of us do not wash our hands every time that we should, or we do not use the correct handwashing technique.
An observational study published in 2010 found that 85 percent of adults washed their hands in public restrooms, up from 77 percent in 2007. The 85 percent total was actually the highest observed since these studies, sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute, began in 1996.
This study was carried out in six locations in four cities in the United States: Atlanta (Turner Field), Chicago (Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium), New York (Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station) and San Francisco (Ferry Terminal Farmers Market).
Men do a lot worse than women when it comes to handwashing, according to the study. Just 77 percent of men scrubbed up as compared to 93 percent of women. But both figures are much improved from the last survey in 2007. At that time, only 66 percent of men and 88 percent of women washed their hands.
Importance of Handwashing
Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by people not washing their hands with soap and clean, running water.
In fact, hand hygiene is now regarded as one of the most important elements of infection-control.
A 2008 study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that handwashing can reduce diarrhea episodes by about 30 percent.
Another 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health reports that hand hygiene is clearly effective against gastrointestinal and, to a lesser extent, respiratory infections.
When to Wash Your Hands
Your hands easily get dirty. As you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, germs accumulate on your hands.
When you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with those dirty hands, the germs can easily enter your body and you can end up sick as a result.
Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free at all times, washing your hands frequently is one of the best ways to limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
However, don’t overdo it. Excessive handwashing is not good for your health either.
Here are certain situations when you must wash your hands:
- After every time you use the bathroom
- When taking care of a wound.
- Before and after eating or preparing food.
- Before and after handling raw meat or poultry.
- After spending time outside.
- Before and after taking care of a sick person.
- Before and after changing a diaper or helping a child use the restroom.
- After spending time with your pet or cleaning up an animal’s waste.
- After taking out the trash or picking up garbage.
- After handling household cleaning products and gardening chemicals.
- After coughing or sneezing into your hands or blowing your nose.
- Before inserting or removing contact lenses.
The Correct Way to Wash Your Hands
To reap the benefits of handwashing, it is important to do it in the correct manner.
Follow these steps to wash your hands the right way every time:
1. Wet your hands with clean, running water. Allow your hands to get wet all over. You can use either cold or lukewarm water. Avoid hot water, as it can make your skin dry.
2. Apply some soap. You can use a liquid hand soap, a bar soap or powdered soap. There is no need to use antibacterial soap, as it has not been proven effective at getting rid of all the germs.
3. Rub your hands together to lather up the soap. Cover the backs of your hands, between your fingers, under your nails, and around your wrists.
4. Give your hands a nice scrub for at least 20 seconds.
5. Rinse your hands thoroughly under clean, running water. Be sure to rinse off all of the soap.
6. Finally, dry your hands using a clean towel or let your hands air-dry. You can also use an air-drying unit often found in public restrooms.
What to Do When You Don’t Have Soap and Water
If water and soap are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Squirt a dollop of hand sanitizer into the palm of one of your hands.
- Rub your hands together, covering both sides of your hands, between your fingers and around your wrists.
- Continue gently rubbing it around until the sanitizer evaporates.
If your hands are too dirty, hand sanitizers will not remove all the residue or germs. In that case, you really need to find soap and water to thoroughly clean your hands.