Back to Basics: The Importance of Handwashing

A man washing his hands with soap and water at a bathroom sink.

Limit the Spread of Germs with Proper Handwashing

It’s important to remember a simple, easy and effective way to prevent spreading germs and to help yourself and others stay healthy: washing your hands with soap and water. 

Whether it’s at your home or office, having clean hands can help stop the spread of germs in a community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It notes that in a hospital, health care providers who practice proper hand hygiene can help prevent infections. But did you know that there’s a right way to wash your hands? The CDC suggests these five steps:

  1. Wet your hands, using clean running water and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands with the soap, rubbing them together. Lather the backs of both hands, between fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for 20 seconds or more; it’s the amount of time it takes for you to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice from start to finish.
  4. Rinse your hands thoroughly under running water.
  5. Dry your hands with a clean towel, paper towel or air dryer.

The CDC recommends that you wash your hands often, particularly when you might get germs on your hands:

  • After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • Before, during and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat food
  • Before and after you treat a cut or wound
  • Before and after you care for someone who is sick
  • After you use the toilet
  • After you change diapers or clean a child who has used the toilet
  • After you touch an animal, animal waste or animal feed
  • After you touch garbage

When soap and water aren’t immediately available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, you should closely supervise young children when using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to keep them from accidentally swallowing it, which can cause alcohol poisoning. The CDC notes that these sanitizers don’t rid your hands of all germs. If your hands are greasy or have visible dirt, it’s best to wash with soap and water.