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Should You Add Soap or Water First When Washing Your Hands?

A person places soap in their hands before washing.
Marina Andrejchenko/Shutterstock.com

In the realm of hand hygiene, the question lingers: should soap or water be first when we embark on our handwashing ritual? If you’re curious about how to wash your hands the right way, there actually is an ideal method.

Let’s unravel this sudsy mystery to discover the optimal sequence for squeaky-clean hands. Hint: it goes water, soap, water.

According to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the key to effective handwashing lies in the union of soap and water. You should begin by wetting your hands with clean, running water before you lather up with a generous amount of soap.

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By first applying some water, you make it much easier for the soap to lather and fully cover your hands. It can spread around easier, ensuring that you’ve fully washed your hands. Plus, wet skin can absorb the soap better.

The soap works its magic by lifting dirt, oils, and germs from your skin. As you continue to scrub for a complete 20 seconds, you allow the combination of soap and water to eliminate any and every pesky germ.

Once you’re done scrubbing, fully rinse your hands with clean, running water and then dry them.

While the order of application may seem trivial— water, soap, then water again—the key is to allow the soap and water to intertwine harmoniously. This maximizes the effectiveness of your handwashing routine.

Abbey Ryan Abbey Ryan
Abbey Ryan is a storyteller, preferably of stories in written form. Across the 5 years of her professional writing career, her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Amazon, The Medical News Today, and more. When she's not writing (which is rare), she's likely traveling, painting, or on the hunt for a good snack. Read Full Bio »
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