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You’re Probably Washing Your Hands Wrong (Here’s What to Do)

Person washing their hands in a sunny bathroom.
Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

With coronavirus compounding the problems of an already lengthy flu season, it’s even more important to wash your hands—correctly. Here’s how to do it right so you’re not wasting your time and failing to safeguard your health.

According to the CDC, here’s what you need to be doing if you want to fight the spread of germs:

Get Your Hands Wet, and Then Soap Up

You need to wet your hands with running water. The temperature doesn’t matter, but you’ll probably want it just warm enough to be comfortable but not hot. Not only does hot water strip natural skin oils off your hands, but hotter water doesn’t kill pathogens; if you were washing your hands with water hot enough to do that, it would give you serious burns.

Standing water is no-go, too. If you’re using water for cleaning dishes or other tasks, don’t use it to wash your hands at the end.

Once your hands are wet, turn the faucet off and soap up. No need for antibacterial soaps—the act of soaping and rinsing your hands is effective enough.

Lather and Wash for the Appropriate Amount of Time

You want to get the soap all over your hands and get it scrubbed in. It’s the soap, more than the water, that’s lifting dirt and bacteria. Ensuring the soap gets everywhere ensures the contaminants lose their hold on your skin and slip away down the drain.

Get under your nails and in between your fingers. Keep it up for no less than twenty seconds, but wash longer if that’s what it takes to reach every area and get any stubborn grime off.

Rinse Your Hands (Again, No Hot Water Needed)

When you rinse your hands, the temperature, beyond basic comfort, doesn’t matter. The key is to be thorough, just like when you were soaping up your hands, and to continue the motion of rubbing your hands and cleaning under your nails. You want the soap (and the grime it has loosened and lubricated) to wash away completely.

You’ve Definitely Been Drying Your Clean Hands Wrong

Don’t grab that hand towel the whole family has been using for the past few days. If someone in your home isn’t washing their hands properly, that towel is going to put more germs right back on your clean hands. If the towel never dries out properly because it’s bunched up by the sink, that’ll just help keep the germs alive.

Dry your hands with a clean towel or let them air dry (resist the urge to wipe your hands on your jeans, as that might just spread more germs right back onto your freshly cleaned hands).

Best Value

A simple solution to the clean towel conundrum without spending tons of money on fancy hand towels is to keep a stack of inexpensive old-fashioned and absorbent “flour sack” towels near the sink or in a drawer. When you buy them in bulk, you can often get the cost down to a dollar or less per towel. As you use them, just toss them in a container and launder them all at once.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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