Hand Washing 101: Tips You Need to Avoid Getting Sick

There's one thing that can do more to save lives -- and keep you cold and flu free this winter -- than any vaccine or medical intervention, and you've probably been doing it since you were old enough to stand at a sink. It's washing your hands!

It seems really simple, but any visit to a public restroom will remind you that some people still don't get the importance of hand washing (which is, quite frankly, gross). Even the most well-meaning among us don't always know when to wash their hands or what the most effective hand-washing techniques are.  

You know to do it after using the bathroom, before eating, and after handling stuff like raw chicken, but you should also scrub up:

  • Before and after handling food
  • Before and after caring for a sick person (including when you're giving someone medicine)
  • Before holding a baby (please, people, always do this ... some parents are too shy to ask and it really helps keep the baby well)
  • Before and after treating a cut
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching animals, their toys, their leashes, or their waste (like changing a litter box or picking up after your pooch)
  • After touching something contaminated -- like garbage, used cleaning cloths, or trash cans
  • After working in the yard or garden
  • After contact with blood or bodily fluids (including saliva and vomit)
  • Before putting in your contact lenses

... and there are probably many, many more. Yes, this all sounds a little OCD, but "when in doubt, wash your hands" is a good rule to follow. Even if you don't make direct contact with, say, bodily fluids or waste, you can't be sure you're not all germy without good hand washing.

That said, simply passing your hands back and forth under running water isn't going to cut it. You need water (warm or cold, doesn't matter) and soap; antibacterial soaps are not any more effective than plain ones and may contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. It doesn't have to be fancy, either. Regular old bar soap is just as good as the fancy foaming stuff kids like (which you can make by refilling an empty foaming soap container with plain liquid soap and water and shaking).

Wet your hands, lather them up, and wash them for 20 seconds. Sing "Happy Birthday" twice or use these little ditties my kids learned in school:

(To the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"):

Wash, wash, wash your hands, that's what you should do

Rub and scrub and rub and scrub and you won't get the flu

(To the tune of "Frère Jacques")

Top and bottom, top and bottom

In between, in between

Rub them all together, scrubby scrubby scrubby, you're all clean, squeaky clean

Rinse, dry with a clean towel, and you're done. Hand sanitizers work too, but not as well as soap and water and should only be used if you aren't near a sink. Now don't you feel good about making the world a little healthier?

Do you have any tricks to get your kids to wash their hands?

Image via SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget/Flickr

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