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Handwashing 101

While medical professionals have always known handwashing is the best way to stop disease spread, it has now become a top priority for many. The main reason for this is because we touch our faces more frequently than we ever realized. Various studies report the average person touches his or her face between 15 to 25 times each hour. From simply resting a face in a palm, to tousling hair or scratching an itch, most are guilty of frequent face touching. This gives germs easy access to enter the body whether through the eyes, nose or mouth.

The habit of face touching means we also need to develop another habit of handwashing. One study found that 40% of Americans don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, and only 5% of those who do, are doing it correctly. Proper handwashing includes soap, water and thorough rinsing and drying.

Steps for Proper Handwashing

  1. Wet hands in water.
  2. Remove hands from water and apply soap.
  3. Scrub for 20 seconds out of the stream of water. Be sure to scrub fronts and backs of hands, as well as between fingers.
  4. Return hands to water and rinse thoroughly.
  5. Dry completely with clean towel or under air dryer.

Towel Drying vs. Air Dryer

The key is to make sure you are drying your hands completely. Wet, even damp, hands create a breeding ground for more germs. At home, be sure to change the towel daily to prevent mildew. If you are using a clean paper towel, you can use the towel to turn off the water and open the door—especially in a public restroom. If paper towels are unavailable in public restrooms, make sure to completely dry your hands with the air dryer. Rapidly rubbing your hands together under the warm air helps dry your hands more quickly. Do not dry your hands on your clothes; it defeats the purpose of washing your hands at all.

Handwashing Myths and Facts

You must use hot water. MYTH: For water to be hot enough to kill the germs on your hands, you would get burned. Warm water is most comfortable, but cold water also will work.

You must use antibacterial soap. MYTH: The friction from scrubbing loosens the dirt and germs from the cervices of your hands and will leave your hands clean.

You should scrub your hands for 20 seconds. FACT: At least 20 seconds of scrubbing will produce enough friction on your hands to loosen the dirt and germs.

Hand sanitizer is just as effective as soap and water. MYTH: Hand sanitizer kills germs, but it doesn’t remove debris. Hand sanitizer actually works best on already clean hands to kill any germs not removed during handwashing. Handwashing is always the best choice if available!

High-Speed Handwashing was developed by Oregon State University Extension.

Gwen Crum, WVU Extension Agent, Wood County and Laura Maiden, WVU Extension STEM Assistant, Wood County