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Hand Washing Q and A

Keep your family safe by learning the answers to commonly asked questions about washing your hands.

How often should you wash your hands? Does the type of soap matter? What about the water temperature? These are some excellent questions, and they show that people are truly concerned about their health and safety. We have created this article in response to many of the questions our patients have been asking. Hopefully we can help you to determine fact from myth in regard to hand washing.

Is the temperature of the water important? Should I always wash my hands in warm water? Should the water be at a certain temperature?

We’ve been told for many years to wash our hands in warm water. Contrary to popular opinion, the temperature of the water matters very little. It may feel more comfortable to wash our hands in warm water. However, water temperatures don’t make the soap stronger. You don’t want to use water that is so hot that it damages and weakens the skin. For the most part, you can use the water that comes out of the faucet a couple seconds after you turn it on. During the time you are waiting for the water to become warm, you could be washing your hands the entire time.

Does the type of soap matter? Should I use bar soap? Is it better to use soap from a dispenser? Would using industrial soap (that mechanics use) be more beneficial? Does the soap need to have “antibacterial” on the label?

Keep in mind that you want to protect your skin as much as possible. Because your skin is your first line of defense against harmful microbes, you need to prevent damage to the skin. Regular use of harsh soaps can dry out the skin. They can cause the skin to become cracked which will create tiny openings for viruses and bacteria to enter. Most over-the-counter soaps are effective. The name brand soap that your family has been using for years is probably fine to use. It is often more convenient to draw soap from a dispenser, however bar soap works just as well.

Washing my hands seems tedious. Could I just use antibacterial lotion instead of washing my hands? What if I use hand sanitizing gel instead of washing my hands?

Washing your hands with soap and water is preferable to using hand sanitizing gel. Hand sanitizing gels contain high concentrations of alcohol. Over time, this constant exposure to alcohol will cause your skin to dry out. Hand sanitizing lotions and gels do have their place. They are available for those times when you don’t have immediate access to soap and water. They can be kept in your vehicle to be used for such occasions as after pumping gas into your car, after visiting the grocery store, after a trip to the doctor, after touching a doorknob / handrail, or after handling money. Some people are sensitive to the odor of certain types of hand sanitizing gels, especially if they contain perfumes. These perfumes can sometimes cause people to cough or sneeze after use.

How much time should I spend washing my hands? How do I know when I have been washing my hands for a long enough amount of time?

It isn’t enough to just run your hands under some soapy water. Your hands need to be scrubbed, one hand against the other. This friction is necessary to detach viral particles and harmful bacteria from the surface of your skin. Twenty seconds is usually sufficient if your hands aren’t overly dirty and exposed to contaminants. Pick a chorus from one of your favorite songs or a favorite verse that is roughly twenty seconds in length to help you gauge the proper amount of time. You can always count to twenty. This provides sufficient time to scrub the hands and the webbing between each finger.

What if I wear rings on my fingers?

Jewelry can trap harmful microbes where it contacts the skin. Care should be taken to clean over and around jewelry. Rings and other accessories worn on the hands should be removed while at home and cleaned individually. Neglecting to clean under jewelry can enable viruses and bacteria to propagate.

Is it important to use a towel to dry my hands? Or is it better to drip dry / shake off my hands after washing them?

When you have access to a clean, dry towel, it can be used to dry your hands. A fresh paper towel works as well and needs to be disposed of properly. If there is no way to dry your hands with a towel then try to keep your hands over the wash basin until most of the excess water has dripped away from your hands. Then you can let your hands air dry.

How often should I wash my hands when I am at home?

A change in location or activity can determine how many times hand washing is needed. You may not need to wash your hands as frequently while you are at home. Wash your hands after you handle dirty laundry, use the restroom, bring in groceries from the store, or contact raw eggs, meat, and produce. Wash your hands after you touch dirty dishes or handle the mail. Also wash your hands prior to food preparation and putting away clean dishes.

How far up my arm do I need to clean when washing my hands?

When washing your hands, you need to wash above your wrist. It may be necessary to wash up to your elbow if your arm has also been exposed to harmful germs. Make sure you also thoroughly clean the back of your hand and wrist.

Does clipping my finger nails help reduce the amount of germs?

Well groomed nails enable hand washing to be more effective and decrease the chance that bacteria and viruses will collect in hard to reach spots under the nails. Use of a nail brush can eliminate germs deep inside the nail bed.

We hope that this answers many of your questions about hand washing. It costs very little in terms of money and time spent to keep your hands clean. Twenty seconds of hand washing can protect you and your family from illness.

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