As a hand specialist I often get asked general hand health questions like, What is the right way to wash my hands?
Here’s a quick summary of the Dos and Don’ts of proper hand washing techniques.
People don’t take hand washing seriously – I’m sure you have the same experience as me in the bathroom, where people tend to splash a little water on their hands, wipe them off, and run out the door. Yikes.
Why is hand washing so important?
Frequent and proper hand washing is critical for avoiding illness and preventing the spread of germs, like bacteria and viruses.
Hospital patients get millions of infections each year in the United States. In the hospital, infections can be especially dangerous.
The most common way infections are transferred from person to person is on the hands!
There is substantial evidence that hand hygiene reduces the incidence of infections.
In recent studies healthcare-associated infection rates were lower when antiseptic handwashing was performed by health care workers and went down when people followed hand washing rules more closely.
Hand hygiene is a general term that applies to either handwashing, antiseptic handwash, alcohol-based handrub, or surgical hand hygiene/antisepsis (when a doctor scrubs before surgery).
Handwashing refers to washing hands with plain soap and water. Handwashing with soap and water remains a sensible strategy for hand hygiene in non-healthcare settings and is recommended by CDC and other experts.
How to know which one to use
If you have visible dirt or some sort of goo or mess on your hands, use soap and water.
If you can’t see any dirt, you can use hand hygiene techniques.
Facts about hand hygiene (non-soap and water)
- alcohol-based handrub is better than handwashing at killing bacteria
- Alcohol-based handrubs are less damaging to the skin than soap and water.
- Alcohol-based handrubs may be a better option than traditional handwashing with plain soap and water or antiseptic
- handwash because they require less time, act faster, and irritate hands less often.
- These handrubs are easier to get to than finding a sink (more accessible)
Hand hygiene technique
When decontaminating hands with an alcohol-based handrub, apply product to palm of one hand and rub hands together, covering all surfaces of hands and fingers, until hands are dry.
When washing hands with soap and water, wet hands first with warm water, apply a nickel or quarter-sized amount of soap, and rub hands together for at least 15 seconds (sing Jingle Bells twice in your head to spend enough time), covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers.
Rinse hands with water, dry thoroughly with a disposable towel, and use the towel to turn off the faucet and open the door, if needed.
When to clean your hands
- you cook with raw meat or other raw foods
- using the toilet
- changing diapers
- touching a pet or other animal
- blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing into your hands
- touching a sick family member
- dealing with garbage or other contaminated material – even shoes
- you prepare food
- you eat
- treating cuts, scrapes or giving medicine
- touching a sick family member
- removing or putting in contact lenses