How to Wash Your Hands
Prevent the Spread of Germs and Food-borne Illness by Hand Washing
Hand Washing is the single most important method of preventing the spread of illness, infection and food-borne illness.
Every year more than 164 million school days are lost due to illness and children are often passing on the illnesses to their parents and siblings.
In light of the concerns over seasonal flu (or influenza), washing your hands is one of the most important and effective things you can do to prevent getting the flu.
Estimates are as many as 76 million Americans get a food-borne illness each year. Of these, about 5,000 die as a result of their illness.
Those who are particularly vulnerable to these infections are the very young, the very old, those who are hospitalized and those fighting diseases such as AIDS or Cancer.
Many of those illnesses could have been avoided if adults, children and caretakers had done something as simple as wash their hands correctly.
I have worried about preventing infection and hand washing professionally when I was practicing medicine and also as a surgical intern. I have also worried about preventing infections and surgical scrubbing personally, when my youngest was in the Intensive Care Nursery as a baby.
Read on to discover more about how to prevent the spread of germs through proper hand washing and stay healthier this year.
Image from Microsoft Clipart
Hand Washing is the single most important means of preventing
the spread of infection.
People Most at Risk from Poor Hand Hygiene
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 76 million Americans get a food-borne illness each year. Of these, about 5,000 die as a result of their illness.
Those most at risk for infection or a food-born illness include:
- Premature and NICU Babies
- Young children
- Women who are pregnant
- Patients in the hospital
- Immunocompromised Patients - Those with AIDS, Cancer
- Transplant Patients
Note to Wash Hands!
A reminder when I wash my hands with soap and clean to it under running water for 20 seconds.
Review the list of when I need to wash my hands.
If soap and clean water are not available, I can use an alcohol-based product to clean my hands
When should you wash your hands?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends the following situations that you want to be sure to wash your hands:
- After going to the bathroom
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After handling an animal or animal waste
- After handling an animal or animal waste
- After handling garbage
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- Before and after tending to someone who is sick
- Before preparing or eating food
Remember to Wash Hands
Hand Washing Decal
- Amazon.com: Hand Washing - 18"W x 12"H - Peel and Stick Wall Decal by Wallmonkeys: Home & Kitche
Amazon.com: Hand Washing - 18"W x 12"H - Peel and Stick Wall Decal by Wallmonkeys: Home & Kitchen
Recommendations on When to Wash Hands...Before
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following situations when you should wash your hands:
- Before eating
- Before and after treating wounds or cuts
- Before and after touching a sick or injured person
- Before and after preparing food, especially before and immediately after handling raw meat, poultry or fish
- Before inserting or removing contact lenses
- Before and after using public restrooms (gas stations, restaurants, airports, train stations and bus stations)
Recommendations on When to Wash Hands...After
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following situations when you should wash your hands:
- After using the bathroom
- After blowing your nose
- After coughing or sneezing into your hands
- After touching animals or animal waste
- After handling garbage
- After changing a diaper - wash the diaper-wearer's hands, too
- After cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom
- After using public restrooms (gas stations, restaurants, airports, train stations and bus stations)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 76 million Americans get a food-borne illness each year.
Of these, about 5,000
die as a result of their illness.
Basic Hand Washing Techniques
The Center for Disease Control recommends using the following technique when washing hands with soap and water:
- Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
- Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
- Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" twice through to a friend!
- Rinse hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.
- P.S. (From me) Now that you have clean hands, watch out for the dirty door handles. Use a towel to open the door.
The Zen of Handwashing Poster
Simon and Garfunkel - The 59th Street Bridge Song
Feeling Groovy, for those who need the flashback reminder on the 59th Street Bridge Song from summitmusic70. Song lyrics are posted below.
Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy.
Ba da, ba da, ba da, ba da...
Zen of Handwashing
I saw this in a bathroom and had to track down the original source to share it as a resource. One of the suggestions is to sing the first verse of the 59th Street Bridge Song, otherwise known as Feeling Groovy, from Simon and Garfunkel.
- The Zen of Handwashing | Blue Avocado
Quotes from an emergency room nurse, a Buddhist monk and a rapper adorn this original Zen of Handwashing poster made for Blue Avocado by Keiko Rosenstiel of Curry Senior Clinic and Center.
- The Zen of Handwashing - PDF File
Download the Zen of Handwashing as a PDF File.
Pink Grapefruit Hand Soap in the Amazon Spotlight
This hand soap cleans your hands safely and effectively without harsh chemicals. It is made from naturally derived, biodegradable ingredients, including Vitamin E and aloe that are safe for your skin and the environment.
I love the uplifting and energizing pink grapefruit fragrance.
Comes as a case of six 12-ounce recyclable bottles of hand soap (72 total ounces), so you'll have enough for a while.
Employees Must Wash Hands
Employees Hand Washing Poster
- Amazon.com: Employees Must Wash Hands Sign Art Print Poster - 11x17: Home & Kitchen
Amazon.com: Employees Must Wash Hands Sign Art Print Poster - 11x17: Home & Kitchen
Basics about Handwashing on YouTube
More Method Hand Soap Options
The Method brand hand soap cleans your hands safely and effectively without harsh chemicals.
The soap is made from naturally derived, biodegradable ingredients, including Vitamin E and aloe that are safe for your skin and the environment.
Beware of the Germs You Can't See
The Dangers of Not Washing Hands
Despite the proven health benefits of hand washing, many people don't practice this habit as often as they should - even after using the toilet. Throughout the day you accumulate germs on your hands from a variety of sources, such as direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, foods, even animals and animal waste. If you don't wash your hands frequently enough, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. And you can spread these germs to others by touching them or by touching surfaces that they also touch, such as doorknobs.
Infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea. While most people will get over a cold, the flu can be much more serious. Some people with the flu, particularly older adults and people with chronic medical problems, can develop pneumonia. The combination of the flu and pneumonia, in fact, is the eighth-leading cause of death among Americans.
Inadequate hand hygiene also contributes to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E. coli infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 76 million Americans get a food-borne illness each year. Of these, about 5,000 die as a result of their illness. Others experience the annoying signs and symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Source: Mayo Clinic Staff. 2007. Hand washing: An easy way to prevent infection. MayoClinic.com
In 1847, one out of every six women who delivered a baby in the First Division at the Allgemeine Krankenhaus hospital in Vienna died of child bed fever; this situation was mirrored at other medical facilities in Europe and the U.S.
In the 1840s medicine was very different than today, no one knew anything about the germ theory.
At the time it was common practice for doctors to go straight from dissecting cadavers to delivering babies without washing their hands; the doctors and the medical students were infecting their own patients.
Ignac Semmelweis showed that deaths from puerperal fever (an infection following childbirth) at the Vienna Hospital could be reduced simply by making doctors and medical students wash their hands in a disinfectant solution before entering the maternity ward.
Image Source: Wikimedia. Ignaz Semmelweis Hand Washing Public Domain.
The Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis
Read about the strange story of Ignac Semmelweis. It may inspire you to wash your hands.
Not recognized in his lifetime, Semmelweis's groundbreaking discovery of how childbed fever was transmitted was later validated by the work of Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister.
Wash Your Hands
CDC on Hand Washing - Video
Good Hand Hygiene Saves Lives
Resources on How to Wash Hands
- Hand Hygiene
An editorial in the British Medical Journal about how using alcohol hand rubs between patients reduces the transmission of infection.
- CDC Clean Hands Campaign
The main page for the CDC's (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Clean Hands Campaign site.
- Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings
These recommendations for Hand Hygiene come from the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee and the HICPAC/SHEA/APIC/IDSA Hand Hygiene Task Force.
- Hand Washing
An editorial in the British Medical Journal on how hand washing is a modest measure that has big effects.
- How To Perform Surgical Hand Scrubs
An article on How to Perform a Surgical Hand Scrub from the Infection Control Today Magazine.
Hand Washing Timer Video Clip
See how the Intellitec Wash and Brush works in this video clip from Amazon.
Hand Washing Timers
Using a timer can make it easier to remember how long to wash your hands.
Organic Hand Soaps Available on Amazon
Six Steps to Wash Your Hands on YouTube
Six Step Hand Washing Technique
This is the basis for a surgical scrub, except the time is longer.
- Roll up sleeves and wet hands with warm water.
- Using soap, not a hand sanitizer solution, work up a soapy lather that covers hands and forearms.
- Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds: make sure to wash palms, back of hands, between fingers, and forearms.
- Use a fingernail brush to clean under fingernails and between fingers.
- Rinse hands and forearms in warm water.
- Dry hands with single-use paper towels or cloth roller towel. Turn off the faucet with paper towels to prevent re-contamination of hands.
Use Your Elbow to Get Paper Towels
Hand washing is now a standard antiseptic technique used by
all surgeons in preparation for operations to prevent infections.
Surgical Handwashing Techniques
It is hard to imagine that there was a time when people didn't wash their hands before seeing patients.
Now hand washing is a required antiseptic technique used by all surgeons prior to operating to prevent infections.
Surgical hand washing techniques were the ones that I had to use when I was a medical student rotating through the surgery department and during my surgical intern year.
Surgical hand washing was the technique we had to use prior to entering the NICU to visit my daughter when she was hospitalized to prevent her from being exposed to any infections.
There are two methods of scrub procedure. One is a numbered stroke method, in which a certain number of brush strokes are designated for each finger, palm, back of hand, and arm. The second, a time method is described below.
How to Perform a Surgical Scrub
Infection Control Today Magazine published an article on the Surgical Scrub. In the timed scrub each scrub should last from three to five minutes, depending on facility protocol.
The procedure for the timed five minute scrub consists goes as follows:
- Remove all jewelry (rings, watches, bracelets).
- Wash hands and arms with anitmicrobial soap. Excessively hot water is harder on the skin, dries the skin, and is too uncomfortable to wash with for the recommended amount of time. However, because cold water prevents soap from lathering properly, soil and germs may not be washed away.
- Clean subungual (under the nails) areas with a nail file.
- Start timing. Scrub each side of each finger, between the fingers, and the back and front of the hand for two minutes.
- Proceed to scrub the arms, keeping the hand higher than the arm at all times. This prevents bacteria-laden soap and water from contaminating the hand.
- Wash each side of the arm to three inches above the elbow for one minute.
- Repeat the process on the other hand and arm, keeping hands above elbows at all times. If the hand touches anything except the brush at any time, the scrub must be lengthened by one minute for the area that has been contaminated.
- Rinse hands and arms by passing them through the water in one direction only, from fingertips to elbow. Do not move the arm back and forth through the water.
- Proceed to the operating room suite holding hands above elbows.
- Once in the operating room suite, hands and arms should be dried using a sterile towel and aseptic technique. You are now ready to don your gown and sterile gloves.
More Extensive Hand Washing Technique
Surgical Scrub Brush on Amazon
You can order surgical brushes if you want or need to be doing an extremely throughout hand washing, such as if you are caring for someone who is vulnerable to infections.
Downloadable Handwashing Brochures
A downloadable PDF File poster from the Minstery of Health and Long Term Care in Ontario, Canada. Images modified and used above.
Hand-washing, Wisconsin Food Code Fact Sheet #1 from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection.
- Hand Hygiene Brochure
Information leaflet for patients, relatives and carers from the North Yorkshire and York Department of Infection Prevention and Control Nursing Service.
- Be a Germ Buster - Wash Your Hands
A downloadable brochure/poster from the Washington Department of Public Health.
- Wash Your Hands Posters
Printable Adult Oriented Posters from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Teaching Children How to Wash Hands
Hand washing is a basic hygiene skill that should be taught to children by Parents and by Teachers. Hand washing includes washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Teaching good hand-washing techniques or hand hygiene can be a bit challenging since you have to teach children about invisible germs.
Fortunately there are a variety of great resources--books, products and Internet sites--to help make those germ more "visible" to children.
When done properly, the simple habit of hand washing becomes of the best ways to avoid getting sick.
Teaching Handwashing to Children & Squidoo Lensmasters on YouTube
Books to Teach Children About Hand Washing
Resources for Teaching Children about Hand Washing
- Handwashing Curriculas and Student Project Ideas: Handwashing Tool Kit
Materials, curricula, and ideas for teaching hand washing to people of all ages from the Minnesota Department of Health.
- Hand Washing Project Ideas for Students - Minnesota Dept. of Health
A list of fun and educational project ideas for students of all ages to teach about the spread of germs and handwashing from the Minnesota Department of Health.
- Curriculum Ideas for Exploring Handwashing
Curriculum Ideas for Exploring Handwashing from Cathy Abraham, MEd.
- Kansas Department of Health and Environment: Did You Wash 'Em?
A statewide Handwashing Education Campaign from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that uses direct education at local levels and statewide media messages in an effort to reach all Kansans, with special emphasis on children and food serv
- Why Is Hand Washing So Important?
Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.
How to Wash Your Hands Reviewed by Squidoo Lens Reviews
A special thanks to Mimi for her review of this lens in her blog.
- Squidoo Lens Reviews: How To Wash Your Hands
With my husband being sick and having surgery it got me to thinking about all the germs that one could come into contact with in a hospital.
Wash Your Hands - Wash Your Hands Posters. Minnesota Department of Health. Government Agency works in Public Domain.
Beware of the Germs You Can't See. Scotland's National Hand Hygiene Campaign. Wash Your Hands Often.
More on Hand Washing and Staying Healthy
Teaching Children About Germs
For children germs are invisible things that cause them to get sick. Remembering to do things like washing their hands or covering a cough may not come easil...
Pocket Hand Sanitizers
When traveling or even out and about on your daily routine, there may be many times when you encounter something that is less than clean and may be a potenti...
Cover Your Cough to Prevent the Spread of Germs
Serious respiratory illnesses like the H!N1 influenza (or Swine Flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough and severe acute respiratory syndrome...
Contagion - Be Watching for Germs
The viral thriller from director Steven Soderbergh will have most of us, in addition to the germophobes, reaching for the soap and hand sanitizer. Movie vie...
The 1918 Flu Pandemic or Spanish Flu
In 1918 much of the world was at war. The world would soon come under siege by something much smaller and deadlier than enemy forces. More people would die b...
How to Prevent Getting H1N1 Flu or Swine Flu
On June 10, 2009 the World Health Organization finally raised the level of concern about the H1N1 Flu to a level 6. H1N1 Flu has become the first 21st centur...
Ignaz Semmelweis was one of the first physicians to recognize the importance of Hand Washing prior to examining patients. Having spent so much time washing ...
Do you have any suggestions for what you've done to keep your hands clean?