How to Wash Your Hands

How to Wash Your Hands thumbnail
We asked the experts how to wash our hands. After they taught us the proper technique (above), we had a few more questions:Will touching the wet faucet really ruin everything?Yes. The faucet may have the same germs you started with! Use a tissue or paper towel to turn it off once your hands are clean.…

We asked the experts how to wash our hands. After they taught us the proper technique (above), we had a few more questions:

Will touching the wet faucet really ruin everything?

Yes.

The faucet may have the same germs you started with! Use a tissue or paper towel to turn it off once your hands are clean. You don’t want to begin again, do you?

How hard do I have to scrub?

Most people don’t rub vigorously enough, said Barbara Smith, a nurse epidemiologist and infection prevention specialist at Mount Sinai Health Systems in New York.

When you wash your hands, you are using soap and water to physically dislodge germs from your skin and then rinse them away.

Do I really have to dry my hands all the way?

Most people don’t dry thoroughly enough. Germs love moisture. And don’t be afraid to use a little force here too: You are physically removing whatever germs remain.

Do I have to use paper towels?

No. Cloth towels are fine for personal use, but should be washed every few days — more if multiple people use the same towel. A sick person should use a separate towel. Use paper towels for guests!

What about an air dryer?

In terms of hygiene, paper towels are best. Hand dryers are OK, so long as you dry your hands thoroughly. There is inconclusive research that suggests a higher germ concentration around some hand dryers, but using a hand dryer is definitely better than wiping your hands on your pants.

What’s the best way to know you’ve washed for 20 seconds?

One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand…

Does it matter what kind of soap I use?

Liquid soap is best. Bar soap is fine too, just don’t let it sit around in a gloppy dish. Remember: germs love moisture.

When should I be washing my hands?

  • Before you leave the house (to protect others from your germs).

  • And when you arrive at your destination (to wash off germs you’ve picked up from door knobs, elevator buttons, public transportation, etc.)

  • Before and after you eat or prepare food.

  • Before and after you clean your home.

  • After you blow your nose, cough or sneeze.

  • After you use the bathroom or change a diaper.

  • After you feed or touch a pet.

What about lotion for dry hands?

Yes, but use your own personal supply (most lotion does not contain antibacterial agents, so it should not be shared). And don’t forget to keep the bottle and dispenser clean!

Can I still paint my nails?

Yes, but it’s best to keep your nails short and your manicure fresh. Germs can live in cracked and chipped polish.

What’s the technique with hand sanitizer?

Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, and scrub your hands the same way you would with soap and water. Be sure to use enough liquid so you can reach every surface of your hands.

Note: If you’ve seen the recipe circulating on social media for homemade sanitizer using aloe vera gel and rubbing alcohol, we tried it and it didn’t work. You’ll just wind up with a batch of diluted alcohol.

Is hand-washing really that important?

“Your hands carry almost all your germs to your respiratory tract. Keeping them as clean as possible is really helpful,” said Dr. Adit Ginde, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “It would dramatically reduce transmission if people did it well.”

By Tara Parker-Pope, Shane O’Neill, Jonah Kessel and Alicia DeSantis.

  • Updated March 14, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?

      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to lung lesions and pneumonia.
    • How contagious is the virus?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can travel through the air, enveloped in tiny respiratory droplets that are produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
    • Where has the virus spread?

      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 152,000 in at least 125 countries and more than 5,700 have died. The spread has slowed in China but is gaining speed in Europe and the United States. World Health Organization officials said the outbreak qualifies as a pandemic.
    • What symptoms should I look out for?

      Symptoms, which can take between two to 14 days to appear, include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, but people may be able to pass on the virus even before they develop symptoms.
    • What if I’m traveling?

      The State Department has issued a global Level 3 health advisory telling United States citizens to “reconsider travel” to all countries because of the worldwide effects of the coronavirus. This is the department’s second-highest advisory.
    • How long will it take to develop a treatment or vaccine?

      Several drugs are being tested, and some initial findings are expected soon. A vaccine to stop the spread is still at least a year away.

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