How to Wash Your Hands Properly

Stop the Spread of Germs by Washing Your Hands

Did you know that clean hands is the number one thing you can do to stop the spread of germs? Hand hygiene includes washing your hands with soap or applying gels. Staying healthy can be as simple as washing your hands to reduce the number of germs present. But you’re not always near a sink and wonder if it’s OK to use a hand sanitizer. Here’s the best way to clean your hands and prevent illnesses and infection for you and your family.

How to Clean Your hands

In order to prevent the spread of germs wash your hands often—with soap and warm water. Germs can get under and in the grooves of jewelry. Before you start, take of your jewelry so your wrists and fingers are clear. Rub your hands together vigorously in circular motions, scrubbing all surfaces including backs of hands, between fingers, under fingernails. Wash your wrists and forearms last. Wash you hands for at least 30 seconds in warm water and with soap. Warm water makes the best suds and helps prevent skin irritation and rashes. The soap lather combined with the scrubbing helps loosen and remove germs. The germs stick to the soap and get washed down the drain. Pay special attention to your fingernails, between your fingers, and areas that look dirty. Keep your fingertips pointed toward the bottom of the sink, and your hands lower than your elbows at all times. This allows the soap, water, and germs to run down the drain instead of down your arms. Don’t touch the inside of the sink or anything else while washing your hands. Rinse your forearms and wrist first, then rinse your hands well with running water, not standing water in the sink, again keeping your hands lower than your elbows.

You can use plain liquid or bar soap. (Plain soap does not have antibacterial agents in it.) If you use bar soap, rinse off the soap bar before putting it away to remove germs from the soap; keep it in a soap dish or rack that drains off the water and lets the soap dry out. You don’t want the soap to sit in the dirty water. Use small bars of soap so they get thrown away more often than larger bars. Don’t add soap to a partially filled dispenser. Topping off can let bacteria in the soap dispenser.

Dry your hands well

Germs are transferred in larger numbers from wet hands than from hands that are thoroughly dry. Dry your hands thoroughly with soft, clean paper towels; use the paper towel to turn off the water faucet. If you’re in a public restroom, don’t touch the paper towel dispenser with your clean hands; use the paper towel—instead of your clean hands—to open the restroom door. Drying your hands prevents them from getting chapped.

If soap, water and a sink aren’t available

Use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers if you don’t have a sink, soap and warm water. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in the gel or foam kills germs. You can buy alcohol based hand rubs in most supermarkets and drugstores. Be sure to buy gel or foam sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol. Many sanitizers contain 60-95% alcohol.

When using an alcohol-based gel, put about a dime sized amount of gel in the palm of one hand and spread the gel over all hand surfaces of both hands. Then rub your hands together until your hands are dry which takes about 10-30 seconds. Let your hands dry completely before touching anything. After cleaning your hands 5-10 times with hand sanitizers you can wash your hands with soap to remove the buildup of emollients.

Alcohol wipes

(towelettes) can be used for times you would normally wash you hands with plain soap and water. Alcohol wipes are not as effective for killing germs as washing your hands with antibacterial soap or using alcohol hand sanitizers.

When to Use Soap and Water / When to Use Hand Sanitizers

Wash your hands with either plain or antibacterial soap and water when:

• your hands look dirty
• you have touched surfaces after someone you know is sick
• you have or think you might have blood, pee, poop, vomit, spit, snot or other body fluids on your hands
• before and after using the bathroom or helping a child use the bathroom

For instance, if someone in your family is has a cold, flu or stomach virus and you’re caring for or cleaning up after them, it’s likely you will get mucus, vomit or the flu virus on your hands. Even touching surfaces in the bathroom or kitchen that they have touched can make you sick, too.

Clean your hands with hand sanitizers when:

• soap, water and a sink are not available
• for routine hygiene when your hands look clean
• if your hands look clean, but you have touched or been around someone who is sick or used public facilities such as a restroom, computer keyboard, or telephone

Teach Kids How To Wash Their Hands

Boy washing hands with soap and waterKids are the most vulnerable to illnesses spread through touch. They share toys and germs! Even when they know what to do, kids get caught up in play and often forget. It’s a good idea to teach kids the right way and when to wash their hands. Show them how to use hand sanitizers and pack a small one in their school bag. Have them wash their hands as soon as they get home from school or daycare to help prevent the spread of germs into your home and to the rest of the family. If you have little ones, keep a safe stepping-stool near the bathroom sink. Use metal or plastic soap dispensers and dishes that won’t break if dropped by soapy hands.

Washing their hands while singing happy birthday is long enough to get rid of most germs.

When To Use Extra Care Washing Your Hands

There are times when you should take extra care about how and how often you should wash your hands to protect whom you’re caring for as well as yourself.

Take extra care:

• by taking off all jewelry from your wrists and fingers before washing them
• by washing your hands before and after caring for someone
• by washing your hands with an antibacterial soap
• when you wash your hands with plain soap, follow up with a hand sanitizer
• to dry your hands completely after washing them
• to clean your fingernails with a brush, soap and running water
• to keep your nails trimmed to less than 1/4 inch

It’s important to take extra care when you’re caring for:

• someone sick with a virus such as flu, gastroenteritis (stomach flu), pneumonia or they have an illness that can be transmitted by touch
• someone who has had surgery, especially if you’re helping with incision care or changing bandages
• someone who has an open sore, cut or skin rash
• a newborn particularly before and after changing a diaper, caring for the umbilical cord stump or a circumcision; before and after each feeding—either bottle or breast; when you’re preparing breast milk for storage
• anyone over age 65
• anyone who has a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease

Newborns and the elderly need special prevention from germs because they are more likely to have trouble fighting off germs than other age groups. Also, when they get sick their illness is often more severe and can lead to further health problems.

Take Care of Your Hands

Washing your hands often and using hand sanitizers can dry your hands. Look for a hand sanitizer that has a moisturizer. Use warm and not hot water to prevent chaffing and rashes. Use hand lotion if your hands get irritated. Try a hand sanitizer lotion, especially during the winter when hands are already dry from indoor heating.