Hand-washing 101

When kids and adults alike come into contact with germs, they can become infected just by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stop germs from spreading.

Don’t underestimate the power of hand-washing, says Dr. Reshmi Basu, a CHOC pediatrician.

Dr. Reshmi Basu, a CHOC pediatrician

“Besides getting an influenza vaccine, washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself against  the seasonal flu,” said Dr. Basu.

Improper handwashing can also lead to food contamination and foodborne illnesses. But when, how long, and with what should we wash our hands? Dr. Basu offers tips for parents:

Hand wash rules

  • Use warm water and soap for best hand hygiene.
  • Scrub vigorously, and remember the backs of hands, between the fingers, under the nails and the wrists.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds — or the time it takes to sing “Happy birthday” twice.
  • Rinse and dry with a clean towel.

When to wash your hands

It’s important to wash your hands frequently throughout the day. However, a few times it’s especially needed:

  • Before and after cooking or eating
  • After using the restroom
  • After cleaning around the house
  • After touching animals, including family pets
  • Before and after visiting or caring for sick friends or relatives
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After changing a diaper
  • After being outside — playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.

What kind of hand soap is best?

Using a moisturizing hand soap is best during winter months, when more frequent handwashing is necessary, Dr. Basu says. To avoid further drying out the skin, choose a soap labeled “moisturizing” or “conditioning,” she adds.

Are hand sanitizers OK?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing hands with soap and whatever whenever possible because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands.

But if you’re on the go, and soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol that will kill at least 99% of germs.

This article was updated Oct. 15, 2020.

Learn more about CHOC’s Primary Care Network

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