The Who, What, When, Why and How of Handwashing

The Who, What, When, Why and How of Handwashing

By April N. Kapu, DNP, APRN, ACNP- BC, FAANP, FCCM, FAAN

Our parents, teachers and health care providers have always told us to wash our hands, but do we really know the facts behind it or how to do it properly? This Handwashing Awareness Week, let’s dive into the details of handwashing!

Who needs to wash their hands? Everyone needs good hand hygiene — kids and adults, those of us going to school or work and even people who are staying home!

What do you need to do when washing your hands? Use soap and water and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to reduce the spread of germs.

When do you need to wash your hands? Handwashing should be done throughout the day, every day. At a minimum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands before or after these activities:

  • After going to the bathroom. 
  • Before, during and after working with food.
  • Before eating.
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick.
  • After changing diapers.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After touching or feeding your pet or cleaning up its waste.
  • After touching garbage.
  • After leaving a public space.

Why is it so important? Keeping hands clean can prevent 1 in 3 illnesses related to diarrhea and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu, and handwashing can also protect against the spread of COVID-19.

How should you properly wash your hands? Take the following steps when washing your own hands or teaching your family how to wash their hands:

  1. Wet your hands with clean water.
  2. Lather the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails with soap.
  3. Scrub your hands for 20 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday.
  4. Rinse your hands with clean running water.
  5. Dry your hands by air-drying or using a clean towel.

Keeping hands clean is one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect against the spread of many contagious illnesses. Practicing good hand hygiene through handwashing will help protect you and your family from getting sick.