You're Probably Making These 7 Hand-Washing Mistakes—Here's What to Do Instead
Here's how to clean your hands the right way.
This cold and flu season, amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, there's been one message we've heard time and again: Wash your hands! But if you don't know how to wash your hands the right way or aren't diligent about your technique (have you really been singing the entire "Happy Birthday" song twice?), your hands might not be as clean as you think. But don't worry, it's not too late to refresh your hand-washing skills. For starters, make sure you're not making any of the common hand-washing mistakes below, then consult our hand-washing guide and check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) tips. Take the time to properly wash your hands every single time and you can make sure your hands are germ-free and avoid spreading disease.
While washing your hands with soap and water is better than using hand sanitizer, for those times when you're on the go and simply can't get to a sink, here's how to mix up your own DIY hand sanitizer.
Not washing your hands for long enough.
According to the CDC, 20 seconds is the optimal amount of time it should take to wash your hands. Studies show that shorter periods of time may not be effective at removing germs.
But 20 seconds feels longer than you think—it's the time it takes to hum the "Happy Birthday" song twice. Want some more modern musical inspiration? CNN has recommended hand-washing tunes for every decade.
Skipping the soap.
OK, if you're washing your hands without using soap, you're definitely doing it wrong. According to the CDC, the compounds in soap, called surfactants, remove dirt and microbes from your hands. Plus, we all tend to scrub our hands more thoroughly when we use soap and water versus just water.
Also, in case you're wondering whether you should reach for the soap or wet your hands first, the CDC recommends placing your hands under running water (warm or cold works), turning off the tap, and then applying soap.
Missing a spot.
There are some areas most of us skip when hand-washing: notably, the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your nails. Take the time to make sure you clean those frequently-missed spots. Even if you don't have a nail brush with you, lathering and scrubbing creates friction that helps remove dirt and germs. So get scrubbing!
Not drying your hands.
If you're washing your hands thoroughly, but then leaving them wet, you're only doing half the work. The CDC warns that germs can transfer more easily to and from wet hands (like when you reach for the germy bathroom door with still-wet hands), so make sure to dry your hands completely. Studies show that drying your hands with a clean cloth or letting them air-dry before you touch anything are the two most effective methods.
You're not cleaning your hand towels often enough.
Alternatively, if you're drying your hands with a dirty towel, you may be rubbing germs onto your clean hands. Especially during cold and flu season, consider increasing the number of hand towels in your wash rotation so you know you're using a clean towel every single day.
Bacteria thrives on damp towels, so make sure to hang up your hand towels so they dry thoroughly between uses.
You're relying on hand sanitizer.
While hand sanitizer can be extremely helpful for those times when you can't get to a sink, like when you're in the car or stuck in a meeting, it shouldn't be used as a permanent replacement for washing with soap and water. Think of hand sanitizer as a temporary solution until you can get to a sink.
While hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol will help kill germs, it doesn't kill all types of germs and it won't remove chemicals on your hands. Particularly if your hands are dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer alone won't do the trick.
You're touching a germy doorknob or faucet right after washing.
To avoid getting germs on your just-washed hands when using a public bathroom, try to use a paper towel to turn off the faucet or prop the door open with your foot if you can. At your own home, regularly disinfect doorknobs and faucets.