Adapted from an article in USA Today.
Hand washing doesn’t take much time or effort, but it offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting this simple habit can play a major role in protecting your health.
This simple habit requires only soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer ó a cleanser that doesn’t require water.
The dangers of not washing your hands
Throughout the day you accumulate germs on your hands from a variety of sources, such as direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, foods, even animals and animal waste. If you don’t wash your hands frequently enough, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. And you can spread these germs to others by touching them or by touching surfaces that they also touch, such as doorknobs.
Infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea.† Inadequate hand hygiene also contributes to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E. coli infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 76 million Americans get a food-borne illness each year. Of these, about 5,000 die as a result of their illness. Others experience the annoying signs and symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Proper hand-washing techniques
Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Antimicrobial wipes or towelettes are just as effective as soap and water in cleaning your hands but aren’t as good as alcohol-based sanitizers.
Antibacterial soaps have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, these soaps are no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soaps may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the products’ antimicrobial agents ó making it even harder to kill these germs in the future.
In general, regular soap is fine. Follow these instructions for washing with soap and water:
- Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap. Lather well.
- Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 15 to 20 seconds.††
- Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.†
- Rinse well.
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.
- Use a towel to turn off the faucet.
Proper use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers ó which don’t require water ó are an alternative to hand washing, particularly when soap and water aren’t available.
Not all hand sanitizers are created equal, though. Some “waterless” hand sanitizers don’t contain alcohol. Use only the alcohol-based products. The CDC recommends choosing products that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.†
- Infectious diseases: How they spread, how to stop them†from the Mayo Clinic
- Children’s illness: Top 5 causes of missed school†
- Germs: Understand and protect against bacteria, viruses and infection
- Cold and flu germs: How long can they survive outside the body?
Popularity: 1% [?]