Washing your hands is the first line of defense against colds, flus, and other viruses and bacteria. It’s so effective at preventing disease that the Center for Disease Control calls it a do-it-yourself vaccine. October 15 is Global Handwashing Day. To commemorate this auspicious day, here are a few frequently asked questions about the art of handwashing (based on recommendations from the CDC).
Q: How exactly are you supposed to wash your hands?
A: Let’s go through it step by step.
- Wet your hands. Use running water—warm or cold.
- Lather. It doesn’t matter what kind of soap you use—bar soap, foamy soap, scented soap—use something you’ll enjoy! Conserve water by turning off the tap while you scrub.
- Scrub. For t-w-e-n-t-y whole seconds. Yes, that may be longer than you expected, but you don’t have to think of it as a waste of time: Meditate. Make a grocery list in your head. Perfect your presentation. Sing the alphabet song. Celebrate the act of protecting yourself against disease.
- Rinse. Turn the water on and rinse.
- Dry. Use a clean paper towel or air-dry your hands.
Q: When should you wash your hands?
A: Handwashing is important in many situations.
- Always wash your hands after using the restroom.
- Cooking with raw meat? Wash your hands before and after handling it.
- If you’re preparing a meal, wash your hands before handling any food. After you wash your vegetables, wash your hands again. Meat and fresh vegetables can both carry bacteria.
- Wash your hands after you return home from work or errands. Make it a habit—walk in your door and visit the closest sink. Why? Well, think about how many doors you’ve opened, railings you’ve touched, and hands you’ve shaken.
- If you’re sick, wash your hands anytime you think about it—especially after coughing, blowing your nose, or sneezing.
- Wash your hands after handling animals or animal/human waste.
Q: Why is handwashing effective?
A: It’s simple! The water and soap work together to get rid of germs that can make us sick. The germs are scrubbed off and go down the drain, where they can no longer be transferred to a doorknob, onto another person’s hand, into prepared food, or onto a shared computer mouse, for instance.
Q: Does antibacterial hand sanitizer work just as well as handwashing?
A: No. But it is a good alternative when there’s no access to running water. Be sure the sanitizer contains at least 60 percent alcohol. While sanitizers can remove some germs, they do not remove all types of germs, and should not be used instead of handwashing when running water is available.
Q: How should I celebrate Global Handwashing Day?
A: Wash your hands and spread the word!
Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.