Do You Know How to Wash Your Hands?

If someone were to ask me if I knew how to wash my hands, I might feel a tad insulted.

After all, this is a “skill” I learned when I was a toddler. I was washing my own hands so long ago that I can’t even remember the first time I did it.

But hang with me here. What I really mean with this question are several things. Including, do you know the best way to wash your hands?

And do you know when you should wash your hands? As well as how long you should wash them? And what you should use to clean your hands? Finally, why you should wash your hands frequently and thoroughly?

Handwashing Awareness Week

Like just about everything else these days, this topic has grown in importance since the coronavirus pandemic reached America’s shores back in January.

Handwashing is still considered one of the most essential preventative methods.

Today I want to focus on handwashing because the week of December 4 to 10 is National Handwashing Awareness Week.

The goal of this week, according to the American Cleaning Institute, is this. “Decrease the spread of infectious diseases by empowering individuals to educate and help protect their communities.”

Down and Dirty Facts

The first full week of December is chosen for this designation for several reasons. For one, it’s a busy time of year when some people may not take time for proper hygiene.

The holiday rush can compromise immune systems. People are out and about more, exposed more often to others. It’s crucial to stay healthy by avoiding germs.

Before I get into the answers to those questions I posed, let’s look at a few statistics about hand washing. Warning: some of them may gross you out.

  • 80 percent of communicable diseases can be transferred by person-to-person contact.
  • Washing your hands a few times a day can reduce diarrhea rates by 40 percent.
  • Touching your face with dirty hands spreads sicknesses such as colds, pneumonia and viruses.
  • When a toilet is flushed with the seat up, a mist containing bacteria is spread.
  • Sinks in public bathrooms are 90 percent covered in bacteria.
  • Only 20 percent of people thoroughly dry their hands after washing them.
  • Reusable cloth towels have millions of bacteria in their fibers.
  • People who wash their hands regularly use 24 percent fewer sick days due to respiratory illness. And 51 percent fewer sick days due to an upset stomach.

How Germs Spread

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that germs spread most easily when we touch our mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands.

Also, when we prepare or consume food and drinks with unwashed hands. As well as when we touch a potentially contaminated surface or objects. Such as doorknobs, railings and light switches. Plus touch screens, gas pumps and shopping carts.

When possible, wear disposable gloves to handle something that might have germs on it. Wash your hands before and after using those gloves.

Coughing or sneezing into your hands and then touching another person’s hands or a common area also can lead to the spread.

When to Wash Your Hands

The two most important times to wash your hands are before and after preparing food, and after using the bathroom.

And yet less than 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men wash their hands after using the bathroom.

Other times to make sure to wash your hands are when you’ve interacted with animals or taken out the trash. As well as before and after changing contact lenses, and before taking medications.

And, of course, immediately after caring for someone who is sick. Or if you’ve changed a diaper or treated a wound.

How to Wash Your Hands

Wet your hands with clean, running water, then turn off the tap and apply soap. The water temperature does not matter. Lather your hands by rubbing them together, including the backs of your hands and between your fingers.

Do this for at least 20 seconds. Some people like to sing or hum the Happy Birthday song twice as a timing device. Because most bacteria on our hands are under our fingernails, it’s important to scrub underneath them.

Rinse your hands well under clean, running water. When you’re finished, make sure to dry your hands thoroughly.

Damp hands are 1,000 times more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands. Use disposable towels to dry your hands after washing them.

Hand Sanitizer a Good Backup

If soap and water are not available when you need to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.

Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand and then rub your hands together.

Spend about 20 seconds rubbing the gel all over your hands and fingers until they are dry.

Keep in mind that hand sanitizers do not get rid of all the germs that soap and water do. Once you’re able to use soap and water, do so even if you’ve already used hand sanitizer.

A Habit Worth Forming

Handwashing is a habit. A habit that can help keep us healthy during a pandemic. Once a habit is developed, it becomes second nature. 

National Handwashing Awareness Week is a good time to establish this habit.

So, spread the word, not the germs.

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Coleman - December 3, 2020

AMEN, on hand washing article.

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