Handwashing 202: A Master Class

Handwashing 202: A Master Class

By Courtney Sturniolo

We’ve all heard the advice a thousand times since the start of the pandemic. Sing happy birthday twice while washing your hands under clean, running water. Don’t forget to wash the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails. These are important lessons in Handwashing 101 and valuable improvements for so many.

Are you ready to take your handwashing game to the next level? We’ve compiled scientifically based handwashing advice from the top experts, including Harvard Medical School, the World Health Organization, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How to Wash Your Hands

  • Wet and rinse your hands with clean water before adding soap.
  • Work soap and water into a lather. Per the CDC, “A good lather forms pockets called micelles that trap and remove germs, harmful chemicals, and dirt from your hands.” Bar soap and liquid soap are equally effective.
  • Make it three rounds of Happy Birthday, not just two. A Harvard study found that “washing hands with soap and water for 15 seconds reduces bacterial counts by about 90%. When another 15 seconds is added, bacterial counts drop by close to 99.9%.”
  • Don’t touch the tap after watching your hands! The World Health Organization recommends turning off the water with a paper towel. When that’s not available, use another barrier between your clean hands and the contaminated faucet – or your elbow as a last resort.
  • Dry your hands thoroughly with a towel or air dry them but beware hot-air dryers in public bathrooms! According to a study by Harvard Medical School, “Every time a lidless toilet is flushed, it aerosolizes a fine mist of microbes. This fecal cloud,” (yes, there are fecal clouds!) is sucked into the hot air dryers and blown onto your hands. Studies found Staphylococcus aureus along with several other bacteria that are specifically harmful to those with weakened immune systems.
  • Bonus points for using the paper towel or some other barrier to eliminate direct contact with the door handle on exiting a public bathroom. I couldn’t find any scientific studies to back this one up, but we know that 10% of people don’t wash their hands at all before leaving a public restroom, and another 33% don’t use soap. Do you want to touch the same door handle that they did?

What Not to Worry About

  • “The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal,” according to the CDC. It’s a myth that warm water removes more germs and is more effective.
  • According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, “antibacterial {soap} did not reduce the risk for symptoms of viral infectious diseases.” Good, old-fashioned soap and water remain most effective for washing your hands.
  • Don’t worry about touching the soap dispenser. We love our Touchless Automatic Soap Dispenser – but we are careful not to engage in fear-based marketing. It’s convenient for dispensing soap, sanitizer, and even lotion. But touching a soap or sanitizer dispenser before cleaning your hands won’t hurt you. Cleaning your hands will kill or remove any germs you pick up from the dispenser. The same goes for bars of soap.

What About Hand Sanitizer?

Soap and water are proven effective. Conversely, hand sanitizers are shown not to kill many common germs. According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, “alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a risk factor for norovirus {food poisoning} outbreaks.” Other nasty germs not killed by hand sanitizer include Clostridium difficile (diarrhea), Cryptosporidium parvum (more diarrhea), and MRSA – a potentially lethal infection. Whenever possible, do your stomach a favor and wash your hands! Our Portable Paper Soap Sheets make handwashing possible anywhere you have access to water.

When handwashing isn’t possible, hand sanitizers of at least 60% alcohol are better than nothing. For best results, follow this guidance from the CDC, “When using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.”