Handwashing may seem about as #basic as a pumpkin spice latte in the fall, but in a world of antibiotic resistance and superbugs, sometimes it pays to get back to the basics. After all, handwashing is our first line of defense against disease, including the flu and norovirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing your hands “is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.”
At this point, you’re probably thinking you can stop reading because you already do wash your hands. But stick around, because there’s a right way and a wrong way to wash your hands—and 95 percent of people are doing it wrong, according to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health. If you’re spending any time at the sink, you might as well make your efforts worthwhile.
So what’s the right way to wash your hands—you know, the way that will actually remove the infectious germs you’re trying to avoid? The CDC recommends the following five-step method. (Don’t worry, it only takes 20 seconds.)
Step 1: Wet
Wet your hands with warm or cold water—yes, cold works too!—then turn off the faucet and apply soap.
Step 2: Lather
Rub your hands together with the soap to work up a lather. Remember to get the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails—germs love to hide in these places.
Step 3: Scrub
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Hint: Sing the chorus from Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” (in your head, unless you want to get weird looks and/or make a new best friend).
Step 4: Rinse
Rinse your hands well under running water.
Step 5: Dry
Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dryer. Important: Don’t skip this step. Bacteria spread more easily when your hands are wet, so wiping them on dirty jeans or grabbing a door handle without drying your hands completely can undo the work you just did.
Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Borchgrevink, C. P., Cha, J., & Kim, S. (2013, April). Hand washing practices in a college town environment. Journal of Environmental Health, 75(8), 18–24. Retrieved from https://msutoday.msu.edu/_/pdf/assets/2013/hand-washing-study.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, June 13). Handwashing: Clean hands save lives. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html
Morris, R. (2013, January 11). Help resist flu by washing and drying your hands appropriately. Retrieved from https://waterandhealth.org/disinfect/resist-flu-washing-drying-hands-appropriately/