Washing your hands can literally save lives. The Coronavirus pandemic is reminding us all of the importance of proper handwashing, avoiding touching our faces, and keeping a social distance. Proper handwashing technique requires more than a twenty-second scrub of soap on wet hands under running water. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using cool or warm water since hot water will strip the skin of essential oils, especially if you are handwashing frequently. Next, you should lather enough soap between your palms, the backs of both hands, between your fingers and thumbs, and under your fingernails to remove any visible soil. Turning the water back on, careful not to contaminate your clean hands, rinse the soap away without splashing dirty water around the sink. Use a disposable paper towel to dry your hands and turn the water off, and be sure to dispose of it immediately to prevent the spread of germs on clean surfaces. Handwashing should occur before and after eating or meal preparation, coughing or sneezing, using the restroom, or when caring for an ill person (CDC, n.d.). It does not matter if you use bar or liquid soap, antibacterial or a plain soap; all soap has been proven effective in clinical hand washing studies. Be sure to use a high quality hand cream to avoid skin breakdown from frequent hand washing, as this allows another opening for infection to seep in.
Hand sanitizer is a great alternative when a sink is unavailable, but it should not be substituted when hands are greasy or visibly soiled. Sixty percent or higher alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective at killing viruses like the Coronavirus, but it does not kill parasites, Clostridium difficile (C Diff) or the norovirus, which cause diarrhea. Hand washing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections (CDC, n.d.). Harmful heavy metals and pesticides may also remain on the skin after sanitizer use, so be sure to properly wash your hands and protect yourself when using household or industrial chemicals. It is also best practice to wash your hands before and after removing your gloves rather than use hand sanitizer. This is because no manufacturer can assure there are not small nicks or holes in the glove that could allow blood or body fluids to cross the protective barrier.
Parents and caregivers have a role in modeling proper hand washing as a part of the daily routine. Teach young children to wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry their hands at an early age around certain times of the day, especially meal and bathroom times (CDC, n.d.). Try to make it a fun experience by creating a hand washing song or game! There’s the down and dirty of hand washing. Stay safe and support each other, from a distance!
CDC. (n.d.). Handwashing at Home, at Play, and Out and About. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
CDC. (n.d.). Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play, and Out and About. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
CDC. (n.d.). Handwashing: Keeping Your Family Healthy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 22, 2020.