Germs collect on our hands when we open doors, wipe children’s faces, play with toys and change diapers. You can’t avoid germs, but you can reduce the chance of passing them to others by washing your hands often. Hand washing is by far the best way to avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs. Hand washing is a simple and effective way to help prevent diseases, such as colds, flu, and food-borne illness.
According to the CDC, many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in many parts of the world, use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.
Understand when to wash your hands, how to properly use hand sanitizer and how to get your children into the habit.
When should parents wash their hands?
Wash your hands before:
- Often, especially during cold and flu (influenza) season, can reduce your risk of catching or spreading a cold or the flu.
- Preparing food reduces your risk of catching or spreading bacteria that cause food poisoning. Be especially careful to wash before preparing poultry, raw eggs, meat, or seafood.
- You eat is also a good idea.
Wash your hands after:
- Touching parts of your body that are not clean.
- You care for someone who is sick.
- Treating a cut or wound
- Going to the bathroom reduces your risk of catching or spreading infectious diseases such as salmonella or hepatitis A.
- Coughing, sneezing, or using a handkerchief or disposable tissue.
- Handling or preparing foods, especially after touching raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs.
- Touching an animal, animal waste, pet food, or pet treats.
- Changing diapers, handling garbage, using the phone, or shaking hands.
When should children perform hand washing?
It’s important to help young children to wash their hands to make sure it is done well.
Children should wash their hands before:
- handling food
- playing in water
Children should wash their hands after:
- using the toilet
- playing outdoors, in the sand, or in water;
- handling pets or animals
- sneezing or coughing into their hands or blowing their nose
- attending school or daycare
- spending time in high volume public places (e.g., indoor play structures, shopping malls, grocery stores, buses…).
How can you wash your hands properly?
Experts recommend the following steps for hand washing:
- Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather. Scrub well for at least 20 seconds.
- Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Use a clean towel to dry your hands, or air-dry your hands.
You may want to leave the water running while you dry your hands on a paper towel. Then use the paper towel as a barrier between the faucet and your clean hands when you turn off the water.
How do you use hand sanitizers?
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t require water. They are an acceptable alternative when soap and water aren’t available. They can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and might not remove harmful chemicals. If you use a hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Follow these steps:
- Apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.
Don’t underestimate the power of hand washing! The time you spend at the sink could save you trips to the doctor’s office.