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Hand Hygiene: The Do’s and Don’ts of Handwashing

hands washing with soup

One of the best ways to keep bugs, viruses, contamination, and infections at bay—and reduce the spread of illness—is regular, proper handwashing.

A recent study on kitchen hygiene and best practices commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrated that we do not wash our hands properly 97 percent of the time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women washed their hands after using a public restroom. Let’s change that!

As we enter the cold and flu season and with the first week of December serving as National Handwashing Awareness Week, it is a great time to review hand-washing basics.

Stop Germs, Stay Healthy is a public education campaign to encourage healthy behaviors to limit the spread of respiratory illnesses such as colds and flu. Click on the image above to download materials in 22 languages.

Stop Germs, Stay Healthy is a public education campaign to encourage healthy behaviors to limit the spread of respiratory illnesses such as colds and flu. Click on the image above to download materials in 22 languages.

20-second rule: Wash your hands with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds. Create a good lather and clean the back of the hands, between the fingers and rings, and under the nails. Dry hands with a clean towel. There is a lot of science behind these recommendations. Singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice while washing your hands is around 20 seconds.

Five easy steps: Wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry—these steps are recommended by the CDC, which refers to handwashing as the “do-it-yourself” vaccine. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to clean hands when soap and clean water are not available.

Four principles of hand awareness: The four principles, endorsed by the American Medical Association and American Academy of Family Physicians, are:

  1. Wash your hands before eating and when they’re dirty.
  2. Do not cough into hands. Instead, cough into a tissue or your upper sleeve. Deposit the tissue into a waste receptacle.
  3. Do not sneeze into hands. The typical sneeze exits our bodies at approximately 200 miles per hours, emitting around 40,000 droplets into the air per sneeze. As with coughing, sneeze into a tissue or your upper sleeve. Deposit the tissue into a waste receptacle.
  4. Don’t put your fingers in your eyes, nose, or mouth.

A little precaution goes a long way in preventing illness. Proper handwashing helps keep us healthy, which is particularly beneficial around the holidays and throughout the winter.


Keri PollockContributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom. Pollock serves on the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County, the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs Advisory Committee, and the Alzheimer’s Association Discovery Conference planning committee.


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