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How and When to Clean Your Hands

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

The Importance of Clean Hands

Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to keep yourself and others healthy. Washing and sanitizing your hands can prevent the spread of germs. Germs can be spread through people and contaminated surfaces. If your hands have potentially come into contact with germs you need to wash or sanitize your hands. It is important to clean your hands before touching your face, preparing and eating food, touching other people and after any time you touch anything potentially germy. Potentially germy might sound broad–because it is. We are surrounded by germy surfaces and germy people. A good rule of thumb is to always clean your hands after touching public surfaces and always before touching your face. Germs can get into the body via your eyes, nose, mouth, and open wounds. Without realizing it, people touch their faces frequently throughout the day. Since we touch our faces frequently without realizing it, it’s extra important to maintain proper hand hygiene by cleaning your hands frequently.

Maintaining proper hand hygiene can sometimes strip the hands of their essential moisture, so it is vital to use gentle cleansers when possible. Try hand sanitizer that contains moisturizing oils and hand soaps that refrain from using harsh chemicals. Keeping a travel-sized hand lotion with you can also help keep your hands moisturized. The best way to take care of your hand health is to keep your hands clean and well moisturized. This takes intentional decision making and paying attention to the habits we form.

When to Wash Hands

Washing your hands is recommended as the preferred method of hand cleaning because it removes germs and dirtiness (yes, dirtiness is the scientific term). If your hands are visibly soiled with dirt, grime, or oils it is necessary to actually wash your hands. Hand sanitizer will kill germs, but it does not remove the germs like washing with soap and water.

Here’s a list of key times to wash your hands from the CDC

  • Before, during, and after preparing food

  • Before eating food

  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick

  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

  • After using the toilet

  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

  • After handling pet food or pet treats

  • After touching garbage

How to Wash Your Hands the Right Way

We have been washing our hands practically our whole lives, but that doesn’t mean we have been washing them the right way. Thankfully, the CDC has provided us with an easy five-step hand-washing manual.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap (to preserve water), and apply soap.

  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Following these five steps, every time you wash your hands is the only right way to wash your hands. You can read the science behind these handwashing recommendations here.

When to Sanitize Hands

Hand sanitizing is convenience-based hand cleaning. It is important to keep hand sanitizer on you or near you when you will be away from soap and water. The key time to use hand sanitizer to clean your hands is when you do not have access to clean water, soap, and a sanitary drying method. Another key time to use hand sanitizer is before and after visiting someone in a medical facility. Often you will find hand sanitizer near the entry and exit of patient rooms for this reason. Cleaning your hands this way will protect you and the patient from transmitting germs. If you are the patient, it is also important to sanitize your hands after touching public surfaces like doorknobs or pens in the waiting room. The process of washing your hands frequently can be drying. Breaking up frequent hand washing with hand sanitizing can help reduce irritation. Try this by using hand sanitizer when you need to kill germs but your hands are not visibly dirty. You need to use moisturizing hand sanitizer in order to achieve the best hand soothing results.

How to Sanitize Your Hands the Right Way

To properly sanitize your hands you must:

  1. Put enough product on hands to cover both hands completely in sanitizer

  2. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds

  3. Do not rinse or remove sanitizer in any way

  4. Wait until the sanitizer is dry before touching anything else

This diagram shows how to rub-in your hand sanitizer in the most effective way. This technique will allow you to make sure both of your hands get completely sanitized. Hand sanitizer can be ineffective if you do not cover your hands entirely, so it’s vital to make sure you are applying enough product.

Clean Your Hands

We all need to wash and sanitize our hands regularly. Sanitizing and washing your hands is vital to maintaining good health. Remembering to sanitize your hands is easier when you have hand sanitizer in your purse or backpack, in your car, or on your desk at work. Forming the habit of sanitizing your hands regularly will help protect your health and the health of others. Keep washing and keep sanitizing.

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