How to Wash Your Hands Properly: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Erica Loop in Healthy Feeling

You know how to wash your hands—or at least you thought you did. Correct handwashing technique is probably something you never thought you'd have to train in. Before you rush to rinse, here's a quick refresh on why handwashing is a must and how you can master the practice.

Why Is Handwashing So Important?

Do you really need to wash your hands? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing is one of the best ways to stop the spread of some illnesses. Not only does the CDC recommend handwashing to stop the spread of disease, but research has also proven the effectiveness of this germ-stopping technique.

A review article published in the American Journal of Public Health noted that hand hygiene interventions could help to reduce the rate of gastrointestinal illnesses by 31 percent and respiratory illnesses by 21 percent. This means, if you're looking for advice on how to prevent getting sick, handwashing is an easy and effective way to help protect yourself.

But handwashing doesn't help just you—it can also stop you from spreading viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms to others through community contact. Think about the last time you sneezed or coughed into your hand. Where did those teeny tiny viral droplets go afterward? Most likely, they stuck around on your hand. Touch a doorknob, desk, or PIN pad at the grocery store, and you've unintentionally spread your germs to the next person in line.

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How to Wash Your Hands Properly

The CDC recommends a strict set of steps to wash your hands properly:

  1. Turn on the water. Thoroughly wet your hands and apply your favorite soap.
  2. Rub your hands together, creating a soapy lather. Cover every inch of your hands with soap, including the back and front. Be sure to get the soap under your nails and between your fingers, too.
  3. Keep scrubbing for at least twenty seconds. That's roughly the equivalent of singing the "ABC" alphabet song once or "Happy Birthday" two times through.
  4. Thoroughly rinse the soap off under running tap water.
  5. Use a clean towel or air dryer to completely dry your hands.

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When Should You Wash Your Hands?

You should wash your hands frequently throughout the day, especially any time you want to decrease the risk of moving viral or bacterial particles from a surface to your body, from your body to a surface, or from your body to another person.

The CDC advises that you wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after food prep
  • Prior to eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling trash
  • After touching an animal or animal waste
  • After changing a baby's diaper
  • Before and after wound cleaning
  • Before and after caring for anyone who is ill

Pay special attention to washing your hands before and after going into public communal spaces, too.

Now that you know how to wash your hands properly, you can do your part to stop the spread of disease. Turn on the tap every time you come in contact with a germy surface. Scrub for twenty seconds, and don't forget to dry your digits.

Show us your pro handwashing skills by tagging @toms_of_maine on Instagram!

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Why It's Good

When you know how to wash your hands properly, you can help to stop the spread of disease. Whether you're sneezing, coughing, or are about to prep a meal, correct handwashing can help you—and everyone around you—stay healthy.