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How to Wash Your Hands Properly to Prevent Illness

How to Wash Your Hands Properly to Prevent Illness

Our skin is the barrier between our insides and the outside. It is the largest organ of the human body, measuring about two square meters on average. As creepy as some may find it, our skin is a playground for viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. Our nooks and crannies are positively teeming with tiny life forms. The Belly Button Biodiversity Project swabbed the navels of 60 people and found over 2,300 species of bacteria, 1,458 of which were previously unknown to science.


Our hands are perhaps most exposed of all, since they are constantly in contact with surfaces, objects, food, and other people.

With the advent of the COVID-19 virus, hand washing became one of the simplest and most obvious ways to help reduce its spread. All medical professionals and physical therapists need to understand how critical it is to keep our hands clean.

Hand sanitizer is useful in minimizing the transfer of pathogens via the hands, but it also kills beneficial bacteria. Soap, water, and technique form a better approach to simply produce clean hands.

Handwashing Steps for Your Health

Proper hand washing after hands-on consulting with a patient or client should involve a full 60 seconds of attention. This may slow down the flow for busy practitioners, but it can potentially reduce end costs spent on antibiotics and sick days.

1. Start with Warm Water

While the water from the tap heats up, it's a good plan to prepare paper towel or clean hand towels for drying. Running your hands under warm  running water starts to open up the pores, and break down some of the oils on your skin. Don't scald yourself, but use warm water with purpose.

2. Applying Soap

Soap is hydrophilic - it bonds with water molecules first, and then with lipids and fats before it is rinsed away. Lathering your hands and wrists for a full 20 seconds allows soap to completely cover the skin, bond with oils, and loosen the grasp of bacteria and viruses. The process should be vigorous and thorough, with particular attention to the areas between the fingers, under the nails, and across the palms and fingertips. There is a goal to hand washing which is defeated without full effort. The science here is ancient - we know why soap works.

3. Rinsing is Key

Even more vigorous than lathering with soap, the rinsing process is fundamental to achieving the cleanest hands. Rinse with gusto under running water (warm or cool), to remove every possible trace of soap and the microbes it has bonded with. Once again, focus on the areas between the fingers, under the nails, and across the palm and fingertips. Once you feel your hands are completely rinsed, continue for another ten seconds. Without proper rinsing, you may just be pushing bacteria from one part of your skin to another.

5. Don't Forget to Dry

Have pre-cut paper towels or clean hand towels ready near the washing area. Think of surgeons shutting taps with their elbows in order to maintain sterile hands after washing. Dry your wrists, hands, and fingers thoroughly, and then discard the paper to the waste basket or hand towel to the laundry basket. Drying your hands on a used bath towel or kitchen towel reintroduces oils and microbes instantly.

Washing your hands is the first step in preventing the spread of illnesses

During the unpredictable days of the 2020 Covid pandemic (and beyond), one common experience people found was that being rigorous about hand washing, combined with wearing a mask, reduced the spread of cold and flu to almost zero. Many people found that allergies were reduced as well. Hopefully we can learn from this real-world experience.

Key Times to Wash Your Hands

  • Before AND after treating a client or patient
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • 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
  • After riding public transit
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