It's all we hear about these days: wash your hands. To be frank, you shouldn't need the coronavirus to remind you of that, but it's becoming more and more important. Even if you think you know how to wash your hands properly, you might not. There are some common mistakes people make when washing their hands that you should make sure you're not also doing.
1. You're not drying them properly.
Drying your hands is actually an important part of washing them, as strange as that may sound. There are a couple of things to know about drying your hands. First off, make sure they're completely dry. According to Roshini Raj, MD, attending physician at NYU Medical Center, germs love to multiply in damp locations that are full of moisture. If you don't dry your hands completely after washing them, you could be creating a breeding ground for even more bacteria.
The next thing to know is that towels are always superior to air blowers. A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012 showed that paper towels are better at drying your hands without spewing germs all over them than air blowers are. If you only have the option of air blowers, make sure you use them until your hands are completely dry. The extra few seconds are worth it.
2. You're using hot water.
This might not be a mistake, but it's a misconception. Most people think you should only use HOT water when washing your hands. While there's nothing really wrong with that, you could be drying out your hands unnecessarily. Dr. Raj noted that cold and lukewarm water are just as effective as hot water when used with soap, and in fact they dry out your hands less than hot water does.
It is true that hot water kills bacteria, but it would need to be at a temperature of about 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't a temperature you want on your skin. As long as you're scrubbing, rinsing, and drying your hands properly, the temperature of your water doesn't matter.
3. You're only washing your palms.
Sometimes we're in a hurry and just need to wash and go. Maybe other times that'll suffice, but during a crisis like this you need to be more vigilant. Just rubbing some soap between your palms won't be enough. You need to make sure you're doing a thorough job of getting into all the little crevasses dirt and bacteria could be hiding.
“Germs love to hide under fingernails and in the pockets between fingers, so you should scrub these areas every time you wash,” said Dr. Raj.
4. You don't rinse off the soap before using it.
Anyone using a bar of soap needs to pay attention: rinse off the bar before using it on your hands.
“Bacteria lives quite happily in the 'slime' of bar soap, but doing a few simple things will make it so the germs are of no consequence to you,” Elaine L. Larson, PhD, told Huffington Post. “Rinse off the bar in running water before lathering up to wash away the germy goop. And always store soap out of water (i.e. not in a wet bathtub), allowing it to dry between uses. That way, there’s no moist environment for germs to flock to in the first place.”
It sounds strange to think you need to rinse off the the thing you're going to use to wash your hands, but it makes sense when you stop to think about it.
5. You're not actually washing them, you're just using hand sanitizer.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when washing your hands is not washing them at all. A lot of people seem to be opting for hand sanitizer instead of the tried and true soap and water. While that may do in a pinch, you shouldn't be forgoing soap and water all together. According to the CDC, hand sanitizer can't eliminate all the types of germs or harmful chemicals that the old-fashioned way of washing can.
The other thing about hand sanitizer is that usually people don't use it properly. They either don't use enough of it, or they wipe off the excess before it's had time to dry. Instead of stocking up on hand sanitizer, stock up on some soap.
6. You're not washing for long enough.
Yes, there's a proper amount of time to wash your hands. It takes at least 20 seconds of scrubbing with soap and water to give the soap enough time to effectively kill germs. A study done through Michigan State University found that 95% of people aren't washing log enough. Think of it as singing "Happy Birthday" twice, or just count to twenty.
7. You're reaching for "anti-bacterial" soap.
This is another one that's not really a mistake, but it's a wrong assumption. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there's minimal evidence that shows anti-bacterial soap does more than regular soap to prevent illness or the spread of infection. The FDA actually ruled that liquid, foam, gel hand soaps, bar soaps, and body washes labeled “anti-bacterial” with ingredients like triclosan are not allowed to be sold anymore, because the people making them haven't given enough evidence to show that they're effective, or that they're safe over an extended period of time.
Just stick to regular soap.
8. You touch things after you wash your hands.
Sure, you have to open the door to leave the bathroom, but think about what you're using to do that. After you've used your regular soap and lukewarm water for 20 seconds and dried your hands thoroughly, the last thing you should be doing is touching a tap or door knob with your freshly cleaned hands. These surfaces are usually damp and moist, which as we know is the perfect environment for bacteria. Make sure you're using your elbow to turn off the tap and your sleeve or a paper towel to open the door. Keep your hands as clean as you can for as long as you can.
9. You're only washing after you use the washroom.
You shouldn't stop washing after the bathroom, but you should start washing after more activities. Think of all the germs gathered on door knobs, your cellphone, elevator buttons, public transit, or anything else you use on a daily basis. if you're only washing your hands after you use the washroom, you're leaving yourself exposed to a lot of bacteria.
“Most people know to wash after going to the bathroom, but you should wash periodically throughout the entire day, especially during cold and flu season,” said Dr. Raj.
At the end of the day, you want to know you did everything you could to help prevent the spread of germs.
[H/T: Reader's Digest]