Do You Really Know How to Wash Your Hands?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on November 5, 2018

So you think you know how to wash your hands.

Sorry, but chances are you don’t.

A study earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that most of us don’t wash our hands correctly as we prepare food in the kitchen.

Specifically, the USDA found that consumers don’t wash their hands well enough 97 percent of the time.

The biggest problem? Not washing long enough. You need to rub for at least 20 seconds.

“Rushed handwashing can lead to cross-contamination of food and other surfaces, resulting in foodborne illness,” the USDA said.

The study also found that many people don’t dry their hands with a clean towel.

The Cost of Poor Hygiene

“We all need to pay more attention to hand washing,” said Chandler Jenkins, a Carilion Clinic Employee Health nurse.

“By washing your hands thoroughly, you can prevent the transfer of germs from food like raw chicken and beef to other foods,” Jenkins said.

How big a problem is foodborne illness? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States.

Then there are all the colds, flu and other virus-borne illnesses spread by people who don’t wash their hands.

“Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others,” according to the CDC.

“Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water,” the agency stated.

When and How to Wash

How often should you wash your hands? Here are the CDC’s guidelines:

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone 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

What is the correct way to wash? The CDC recommends:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Turn off the tap and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, the CDC advises using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.

Less Than a Minute

As we head into cold and flu season—and holiday party season—hand washing is especially important.

And it takes so little time. In less than a minute, you could keep yourself, or someone you love, from getting sick for days on end.

Do your kids know how to wash their hands well?

It could be one of the most important things you teach them.

Following these five habits will help you stay healthy.