The Importance of Hand Washing: Why We Should Be Doing More to Keep Our Hands Clean

Keeping your hands clean can significantly reduce the risk of getting ill, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why washing your hands regularly should be high on everyone’s priority list.

It’s the First Line of Defense Against Disease

Unwashed hands can contain trillions of disease-causing substances, including feces, salmonella, diarrhea, respiratory and other viruses. When a person with unwashed hands coughs or sneezes or touches their eyes, nose, or mouth throughout the day, their risk of contracting disease rises significantly. The same is true of anyone who handles an object or food that has been touched by someone with unwashed hands.

It Reduces Everyone’s Risk of Getting Sick, Including Children

By washing our hands with soap and water, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Global Handwashing Partnership, respiratory illnesses alone could be reduced by 16-21%.

Researchers estimate that over one million deaths a year can be prevented by reducing the spread of germs with good hand hygiene habits. Washing your hands with soap and water can reduce diarrhea-related illnesses by 30% and respiratory infections by 20%.

The top two infectious diseases in the world that lead to death in children are caused by diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, killing 1.8 million young children under the age of five annually. Both diseases can be reduced by washing hands properly and often. The CDC states that washing your hands with soap and water can protect one of three children who get sick.

It Reduces Antibiotic Resistance

When people wash their hands, they’re less likely to need or use antibiotics, which increases the resistance of bacteria and viruses. Handwashing also reduces the risk of becoming infected by these already-resistant invaders.

It’s Very Easy to Do

Preventing the spread of disease with proper hand hygiene is very easy to do. Yet, it is globally estimated that only 19% of people wash their hands after using the toilet. As well, of those who reported they wash their hands with water, very few are said to have used soap.

Having good hand washing habits and teaching communities about thorough hand washing can reduce absences in schoolchildren by 29-57% and reduce the overall amount of people who get sick by 23-40%.

The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water. However, in instances where soap is not available, sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, as well as 3% hydrogen peroxide, can also be used to disinfect the hands. Hand  sanitizer cannot stop the spread of certain germs, heavy metals or pesticides, or remove grease or chemicals, but it can reduce the number of germs on hands.

Although antibacterial soap is also an option for cleaning the hands, it is not necessary, nor does it guarantee effective removal of all contaminants.

Proper Handwashing Procedure

Handwashing Procedure

You’ll want to ensure that you’ve removed any rings, watches, or bracelets before washing. The CDC recommends using warm water and regular soap and washing for at least twenty seconds or as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” To wash your hands properly, wet hands and ensure all of these areas are cleaned:

  • The front and backs of hands
  • Between fingers
  • Under fingernails using a finger brush

Use a rubbing motion to rinse your hands under clean running water, and then dry with a clean paper or other towel. Prevent recontamination by using the towel to turn off the tap.

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