Facts and Myths About Hand Washing

Want to avoid being sick? Here’s a fact: You can take one simple step to reduce your risks for sickness: Wash your hands!

Simply washing your hands can help you stop bugs such as viruses and bacteria. Otherwise, germs can ride on your hands into your body to infect you. 

See how many facts about washing your hands you know!

Fact or Myth: You need to use antibacterial soap for effective cleaning.

That’s a myth. Any good hand soap will clean your hands — whether antibacterial or not.

An antibacterial soap is considered to be a cleaning product with active antimicrobial agents.

An antibacterial soap is a good choice for places where people’s immune systems are weak. Places such as hospitals and nursing facilities. Antibacterial soap can also be helpful if your home has pets.

Fact or Myth: Antibacterial soap is healthier to use.

This one is also a myth. The Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have looked into it. They’ve found no evidence that using antimicrobial soap keeps us healthier than regular soap.

Another plus for using regular soap: It tends to be less expensive than antibacterial soaps.

Fact or Myth: Overuse of antibacterial products can actually end up being bad for you.

This is a fact. Overuse of antibacterial soaps can reduce the amount of healthy bacteria on your skin. Overuse can make soaps’ antibacterial agents less effective in fighting new strains of germs.

Fact or Myth: If you use an antibacterial soap, you don’t need to wash your hands as often.

This is another myth. When using an antibacterial soap, you should not change how often or how well you wash your hands.

When should you wash your hands?

  • After going to the restroom or changing diapers.
  • After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Before eating, including ready-to-eat foods.
  • After touching animals or their waste.
  • After touching sores, cuts or infected areas.
  • After getting visible soil on your hands or playing/working outside.
  • Before and after handling raw meat/poultry or unwashed fruits and veggies.
  • Before taking medications.
  • Before putting contact lenses in your eyes.

Here’s how to effectively wash your hands to get rid of germs:

  • Wet your hands with clean water.
  • Apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together vigorously and scrub all surfaces (remember the backs of your hands).
  • Scrub for 15-20 seconds (sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice).
  • Rinse with clean water.
  • Dry your hands briskly.
  • Turn off water with a towel. If possible, do not touch the door handle as you leave the restroom.

Fact or Myth: Hand sanitizers are an effective alternative to washing with soap.

This is a fact. Products with at least 60 percent alcohol are an effective alternative when you can’t use soap and warm water to wash your hands. Both sanitizing fluids and wipes have the benefit of being portable, so you can use them in lots of places.

Keep in mind: Hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Sanitizers should not be used when your hands are greasy or dirty.

The CDC suggests these steps for using a hand sanitizer:

  1. Apply hand sanitizer to one of your palms following the product label instructions.
  2. Rub your hands together.
  3. Rub the products over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until dry. Include the backs of your hands.

Fact or Myth: The germiest place in your home is your toilet.

That is a myth. The home toilet isn’t even in the germiest places top 10. Scientists checked surfaces in typical homes to look for germs. They checked for yeast, mold, coliform bacteria (including salmonella and E. coli) and staph germs. (Staph can cause dangerous MRSA infections.) Here are the top-10 places to find germs in most homes:

10. Cutting boards

9. Stove knobs

8. Kitchen counters

7. Pet toys

6. Faucet handles

5. Coffee maker reservoirs

4. Pet bowls

3. Toothbrush holders

2. Kitchen sinks

1. Dish sponges/ dish cloths

When you touch germy surfaces, germs can transfer to your hands. Scratch your nose, rub your eyes or eat finger food, and the germs can take a ride to you!

Teach your family how to stop the spread of germs. It can help you all reduce sickness and stay well!

Get more tips for staying well from the Aurora Health Care Facebook page.

Meet the Author

Jackie Kuzminski, MD, is a pediatrician at Aurora Children's Health in Hales Corners, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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