Where have your hands been today? Changing a tire? Changing a diaper? Patting together a meatloaf? Shaking someone else’s hands? According to a Bradley Corporation survey, only two-thirds of Americans wash their hands after using the restroom, and most of those admit to skipping the soap.
The importance of handwashing—with soap—cannot be overstated. Germs are tough little bugs that are quick to stick to your hands and anything you touch. Regular handwashing protects you and everyone around you from getting sick, and it’s especially a big deterrent to the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illnesses that, in some cases, can become life-threatening.
These five simple and effective hand hygiene steps—Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry—are particularly needed when you are most likely to be exposed to germs, or spread them, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control):
- Before, during, and after preparing food.
- Before eating food.
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea.
- Before and after treating a cut or wound.
- After using the toilet.
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet.
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste.
- After handling pet food or pet treats.
- After touching garbage.
What’s the best way to thoroughly wash your hands every time? The CDC recommends:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
It’s a good idea to carry hand sanitizer with a 60% alcohol base with you, in case you don’t have access to soap and water. It won’t help with anything greasy, but it’s a good stop-gap until you can wash your hands properly. Remember, when it comes to your health and the health of your loved ones and community—you are never too busy or too hurried to wash your hands with soap.