While hand-washing is often seen as a brainless chore, people tend to underestimate the power of this simple task. Dr. Lynn Faur, of Cameron Medical Group, says it’s the MOST important intervention to prevent the spread of disease.
Our hands touch dozens of surfaces throughout the day, picking up germs in the process — from your phone and laptop to door handles, food, and your eyes, nose and mouth. This means that not washing our hands is equally as bad for us as it is for those around us. Whatever germs collect on our hands between washings will be transferred to whoever touches a surface after us.
Dr. Faur recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds as often as possible. Consider washing your hands after using the restroom, shaking hands, eating, applying makeup, entering a building from the car, before starting work, and especially after coughing or sneezing. If you work in health care, always wash or use hand sanitizer when entering and leaving patient rooms and before touching a patient.
For adults, cleaning your hands is often an automatic habit. In fact, most smart watches worn by teenagers and adults have a setting that times you while washing your hands and alarms you when 20 seconds have passed. But for children, it’s a skill they need to learn and practice. To help encourage children to properly clean their hands, Dr. Faur suggests singing a song while washing rather than counting to 20. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice is a popular method. If singing isn’t working well, Dr. Faur recommends establishing a routine that is repeated over and over. This could include having children repeat the hand-washing process twice before drying their hands.
Hand Drying Guidelines
An often overlooked, but critically important, step when cleaning your hands is hand drying. In fact, making sure your hands are dry ultimately determines their cleanliness. There are several common methods/materials used for hand drying, including paper towels, hand towels and hand dryers.
Paper towels dry hands the best and are preferred over hand towels and hand dryers because they aren’t reused and often get your hands completely dry.
Hand towels often completely dry hands, but they can hold germs and are often used multiple times between laundry cycles. If you regularly use hand towels, Dr. Faur recommends cleaning them often or rotating through multiple towels per week.
Hand dryers are a good option if they can adequately dry skin. However, dryers tend to fling water droplets that can catch on the dryer, making it unclean for the next user. Additionally, if you aren’t able to completely dry your hands using a dryer and resort to patting your hands dry on your clothing, many of the benefits of hand-washing are reduced and germs can be transferred to your clothing.
Soaps and Sanitizers
In general, most soaps available at local retailers are fine. Some may have unnecessary and irritating scents or chemicals that dry our hands, but this shouldn’t discourage you from washing your hands when necessary.
Hand sanitizer can be quite effective if no known or visible soil is on the hands. However, Dr. Faur strongly states that only soap and water hand-washing is appropriate after using the restroom or if you are cleaning bodily fluid like blood or stool.
Many people complain that washing their hands dries out and cracks their skin, especially in the winter months. If this happens to you, be sure to apply moisturizing lotion after each wash to protect your skin.
Though hand-washing can seem brainless, this simple task is critical to maintaining your health. In the long run, regularly pausing for 20 seconds to wash your hands will save you time and it saves lives.
For more information on Dr. Faur and Cameron’s Family Medicine team, visit cameronmch.com/services/family-medicine/.