The Art and Science of Washing Your Hands

Manhattan New York City 2009

Hand washing is something so simple a toddler can do it.  In fact, they learn songs about washing their hands!

To the tune of Frère Jacques – Top and bottom, top and bottom/ In between!  In between!/ Rub ‘em both together. Rub ‘em both together./ Now they’re clean!  Now they’re clean!

Yet hand washing is in no way a simple task.  Did you know there is a right way and a wrong way to wash your hands?  And did you know that by simply washing your hands at all of the appropriate times you could be preventing the spread of disease and promoting public health?  In celebration of National Handwashing Awareness Week and in preparation for this cold and flu season, everyone could use a refresher on washing their hands.

As you touch things throughout your day – a doorknob, the handrail on the escalator, or even money – you could be coming in contact with germs.  You could also be spreading those germs to others.  There are several, common ways that germs can spread via your hands. Coughing, sneezing or wiping your nose with your hands can spread cold or flu germs to other people and contaminate the surfaces you touch. Rubbing your eyes with your hands is a good way to catch or spread pink eye. Several gastrointestinal germs such as Norovirus (one of several stomach viruses inaccurately referred to as “stomach flu”), Salmonella, and Campylobacter can also be spread by not washing your hands after using the bathroom or before preparing food.

When should you wash your hands? (Recommendations from CDC)

  • Before and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • Before and after tending to someone who is sick
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling an animal or animal waste
  • After handling garbage
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • Remember: If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel (at least 60% alcohol) to clean hands.

What is the proper way to wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean water and use soap.  Warm water is preferable.  Rub your hands together (just as the song says!) and be sure to get every bit of your hand.  Keep scrubbing for 20 seconds – you can sing the song that is listed above or Happy Birthday works too.  (Sing out loud!  It is National Handwashing Awareness Week!)
  • Now for drying: disposable paper towels or an air dryer are best.  Go the extra step and use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and turn the doorknob if necessary.

Washing your hands is only one thing that you can do to help prevent the spread of disease and to keep you from getting sick, but it is a big thing.  Take this simple step several times throughout your day and you’ll have everyone singing, “Now they’re clean!  Now they’re clean!”