The easiest, most effective defense against common illnesses
Like most people, you’ve probably experienced the misery and discomfort of a cold, the flu, food poisoning or diarrhea. Maybe you go to great lengths to keep yourself healthy, from following the latest diet advice to researching supplements and over-the-counter remedies.
But are you practicing the one simple, easy, no-cost strategy that has been proven to reduce germs by nearly half?
Are you washing your hands?
If you haven’t been washing your hands often enough, it might be time to start. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of your time at the sink.
Is it just a myth?
Your mother used to nag you about it and you see the signs in every restroom. You know you should be washing your hands frequently. But what is the reasoning behind this advice?
As we go about the day, our hands come into contact with hundreds or thousands of objects and surfaces that have also been touched by many other people, leaving behind bacteria and viruses. While not all of these germs will make you sick, the ones that do are more often transmitted via the hands than through the air.
So at least in this case, Mom was right: Infectious germs can quickly make it to your hands during common activities such as sneezing, changing a diaper or touching raw food. The easy solution? Just wash ‘em!
When should I do it?
Be sure to wash frequently throughout the day, especially at times like these:
- Before preparing food
- Before eating
- Before inserting contact lenses
- Before and after treating wounds, giving medicine, or caring for a sick or injured person
- After preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
- After using the toilet or changing a diaper
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
- After shaking hands with others
- After handling garbage
How should I do it?
If possible, use clean running water and soap. Keep these tips in mind:
- Research has shown that water temperature doesn’t play a role in whether germs are removed. When washing, cold water will do just as well as warm.
- Be sure not to use stagnant water. Rinsing from a fresh source helps to remove germs.
- Apply liquid, bar or powder soap. Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap, and might lead to the development of resistant strains of bacteria.
- After turning on the tap, rub vigorously for at least 60 seconds. Remember to scrub the backs of your hands, wrists and nooks and crannies such as between your fingers and under your nails.
- Dry your hands thoroughly.
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
If you follow this time-tested wisdom, you might just find yourself healthier than ever before — with very little effort.
This article was originally published in January 2016 and updated in January 2020.