While thoroughly washing one’s hands has long been a key tenet of good hygiene, the practice has taken on increased urgency since COVID-19 began spreading worldwide. Global Handwashing Day, October 15, is a way to emphasize the urgency of this simple but critical action, which can prevent 1 in 3 cases of diarrhea and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these suggestions for optimal handwashing effectiveness:
- 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. 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 soap and water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. If you don’t have hand sanitizer or soap, but do have water, rub your hands together under the water and dry them with a clean towel or air dry. Rubbing your hands under water will rinse some germs from your hands, even though it’s not as effective as washing with soap.
- Baby wipes may make your hands look clean, but they are not designed to remove germs from your hands.
According to the CDC, handwashing education in the community can:
- Reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by about 23–40%
- Reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29–57%
- Reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by about 58%
- Reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by about 16–21%
- When should people wash their hands? The CDC counsels the following:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating
- 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 touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
- If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing – you should immediately clean your hands by either washing them with soap and water or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.