You’re washing your hands wrong – here’s why it matters

It’s not just your own hands you need to be concerned about – it’s everyone else who touched the same door handle, shopping cart, or gas pump … 

(Michelle Sconce Massaquoi, The Conservation) Do we really stand a chance of keeping our hands clean from germs?

There are two main strategies for keeping your hands clean during cold and flu season.

A recent study indicated that 93 percent of survey respondents admit to not wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. Another study showed that the average hand-washing time is only six seconds; 20-30 seconds is recommended.

The first is to decrease the overall biomass of microbes – that is, decrease the amount of bacteria, viruses and other types of microorganisms.

We do this by lathering with soap and rinsing with water.

Soap’s chemistry helps remove microorganisms from our hands by accentuating the slippery properties of our own skin.

The second strategy is to kill the bacteria. We do this by using products with an antibacterial agent such as alcohols, chlorine, peroxides, chlorhexidine or triclosan.

However, there’s a problem. The long-term use of some antibacterial products may harm your health.

For example, the antibacterial agent triclosan, which used to be in soaps, toothpastes and deodorant, has been shown to alter the way hormones work in the body.

The FDA has prohibited the use of over-the-counter antiseptic wash products containing triclosan and many other antibacterial active ingredients.

With this in mind, you may want to stick with plain old soap and water.

Best practices

To clean our hands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that we:

  1. Wet hands with clean water.
  2. Apply soap and lather/scrub every nook and cranny of your hands for 20-30 seconds.
  3. Rinse well with clean running water.
  4. Dry hands with a clean paper towel or air-dry. (NOT a dirty hand towel that gets washed once a week.)

If soap and water are not unavailable, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol. Read the full story at The Conservation.