Germs are everywhere. They are on your hands, the shopping cart at the supermarket, the elevator button, door handles and every surface you touch without even realizing it.
Our goal as caregivers is to prevent germ transmission to keep clients as healthy and safe as possible at home.
How can we escape germs? There is one simple answer: proper handwashing.
Handwashing can prevent one in three gastrointestinal illnesses (think tummy troubles, diarrhea) and one in 5 respiratory illnesses (think cold, flu and coronavirus), according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- Touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Prepare or eat food and drinks with unwashed hands
- Touch a contaminated surface or objects
- Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects
Washing your hands with soap and water is easy and the most effective way to prevent the spread of germs.
Any kind of soap will work, whether it is a bar or liquid, and it does not have to be fancy soap or specific brand or antibacterial. Soap is soap.
There isn’t enough science to show that regular consumer-grade antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water, according to the Food and Drug Administration. There is also the question of long-term effects of antibacterial soap use.
As for the water temperature, hot or cold water will do the same job, it’s just your preference.
Follow these five steps every time:
- 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.
You need to scrub for 20 seconds to remove harmful germs and chemicals from your hands, according to scientific studies. Shorter washes do not remove as many germs. When washing, make sure to scrub all areas of your hands, including your palms, backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
Here’s the science behind hand washing and why it works:
Soap and water, worked into a lather, trap and remove germs and chemicals from hands. Wetting your hands with clean water before applying soap helps you get a better lather than applying soap to dry hands. A good lather forms pockets called micelles that trap and remove germs, harmful chemicals, and dirt from your hands.
So, for all you science nerds, here’s the super-technical description of micelles from Science Direct: Micelles are nanosized colloidal dispersions prepared from amphiphilic molecules, with a hydrophobic tail and a hydrophilic head. The hydrophobic core acts as a reservoir for hydrophobic drugs and the hydrophilic shell stabilizes the hydrophobic core.
Lathering with soap and scrubbing your hands for 20 seconds is important to this process because these actions physically destroy germs and remove germs and chemicals from your skin. When you rinse your hands, you wash the germs and chemicals down the drain.
When you are done washing your hands, use a paper towel or your elbow to shut the faucet off to keep any new germs from getting on your hands. Also, use a paper towel to open the bathroom door if you are in a public restroom.
If soap and water aren’t available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and must be used properly.
Hand sanitizer should be dispensed into the palm of the hand and rubbed all over the hands, including your palms, backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails until it is dry. Do not wipe off, it will not have enough time to inactivate microbes.
Germs are everywhere. Make handwashing with soap and water a healthy habit to protect yourself and those you care for from getting sick.