There’s nothing like a good round of hand washing. We sing our ABCs, scrub away, and gaze longingly at our reflections for 20 seconds. But what do the white coat wearing smarty pants tell us as to why we have to follow each of these steps? The CDC has broken it all down for us and now Ozark River is going to dive a little deeper too.
“Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply
Using running water from a clean source, as opposed to stagnant, possibly contaminated water avoids any immediate germs getting on those hands before you even start. According to extensive research, the initial water temperature “does not appear to affect microbe removal.” However, hot water is more effective at removing other substances (e.g. oil) that can breed bacteria. When hot water is available, it’s best to use it. Next come turning off the tap, which is simply good for the planet in general, and soap.
Now, this is where it gets a little tricky. In 2016, the FDA released a statement explaining how anti-bacterial soaps and those not specifically labeled as anti-bacterial were no different in their performance. Using any soap and water together is the way to go, regardless of whether it’s marketed as “anti-bacterial” or not. Soap also plays a bit of a mind trick on us. Studies show that when soap is on our hands, we tend to scrub more intensely and for longer than when
“Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands,
between your fingers, and under your nails.”
Making sure the soap reaches all parts of your hands means there’s more of a chance
that friction from scrubbing lifts off any unwanted substances, germs, and bacteria. Pay special attention to underneath your fingernails too. The level of germs under your fingernails can be higher than the level on your toilet seat. Yes, we know how horrific that is which is
why we mentioned it.
“Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from
beginning to end twice.”
The 20 seconds may seem arbitrary and “determining the optimal length of time for hand washing is difficult because few studies about the health impacts of altering hand washing times have been done.” However, when comparing shorter bouts of hand washing with ones between 15-30 seconds, the longer stints resulted in fewer contaminants at the end.
It’s also important to mention that length of hand washing should be gauged per situation. The dirtier your hands are or the more likely it was you encountered germs or bacteria, the longer you should wash up. The CDC gives the appropriate example of comparing someone at home making lunch and a surgeon washing up after surgery.
“Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.”
Rinsing after lathering and scrubbing sends all the loosened contaminants on your hands down the drain. Similar to Step 1, rinsing with running water avoids anything harmful living in still sources of water.
“Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.”
Germs and bacteria like wet hands 1000 times more than dry hands. So, make sure you dry them thoroughly either with an unused towel or by letting them air dry for 20-30 seconds. The best
way to dry your hands is still contested, but the action itself is key to coming full circle clean regardless.
There we have it folks-the why behind hand washing. So, keep on scrubbing everybody.