Hand washing & hand sanitizers: Are you doing it right?

With coronavirus on the rise in the US, we’re all wondering how we can protect ourselves. There are plenty of things you can do and a multitude of resources available to explain them, but experts agree that washing your hands is your first and most effective line of defense. Sounds easy, right? Not as easy as you’d think, apparently. An observational study published in the Journal of Environmental Health found that just 5% of people properly washed their hands for 15 seconds or longer after using the restroom. In fact, average hand washing duration totaled only 6 seconds for men and 7 seconds for women.

So, what is the right way to wash your hands? The CDC recommends wetting your hands with clean running water and then applying soap. When lathering, make sure to get the backs of your hands and between your fingers and under the nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, rinse well and then dry with a clean towel. Don’t have a watch to time yourself? Just hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice. This amount of time allows you to remove the stubborn viruses and bacteria that like to live on our hands.

If you can’t get to a sink quickly, hand sanitizer is a good second option but again you need to make sure you are properly applying and using one that is at least 60% alcohol. When checking the label look for ingredients like isopropanol, ethyl alcohol, n-propanol, and ethanol. Instructions for using hand sanitizer varies by product. The CDC recommends that you follow the directions on the bottle and make sure that all areas of your hands, including under your fingernails, are covered and rub until your hands are dry. Part of the reason that hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as washing your hands is that we often don’t let the hand sanitizer dry completely.

So, remember, two of your most basic acts of hygiene are key tools in preventing the spread of illnesses like the coronavirus, but if you aren’t washing correctly or using it the right way, your best defenses won’t be as effective as you’d like.

Before you leave, watch a short video to observe proper hand washing.