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Everything you Need to Know about Handwashing

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Few people doubt the virtues of handwashing, especially when traveling. Washing your hands is likely your greatest defense against water and food-borne illnesses like traveler’s diarrhea. For such an important practice, few people know how to effectively wash their hands. What’s more, few people realize that anti-bacterial soaps may not be all that they’re cracked up to be. In this post, we will explain everything you need to know about washing your hands.

How you should be doing it

1. Get your hands wet.

2. Apply soap

3. Lather up and scrub well.

4. All over. Even under the fingernails.

5. Do this for 20 seconds.

6. Rinse well.

7. Dry your hands with a clean towel or cloth (an important step — if you wash your hands with water that is not treated and you don’t dry your hands, you may be asking for trouble, especially if you are getting ready to eat.)

No, the water does not have to be hot. No, the soap does not have to be antibacterial. The most important thing is that you actually give yourself enough time to properly wash. A brief rinse won’t do you much good.

When you wash your hands you are not trying to kill bacteria. You are simply trying to remove them from your hands.

What is the deal with antibacterial soap?

Antibacterial soap contains compounds (such as triclosan), which work in a manner similar to antibiotics. That is to say that they disrupt cellular mechanisms of the bacteria. It sounds nice, but this can actually be a problem. The reason is that bacteria can mutate and eventually evolve to be resistant to these disruptions. In other words, antibacterial soap is engineering its own demise.

Antibacterial soaps are different from alcohol based products

Alcohol based sanitizers are different from antibacterial soaps. Instead of trying to disrupt bacteria cell functions, the alcohol in the sanitizer simply kills the organisms by drying them out. In this case, you are not contributing to bacterial resistance.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that sanitizers may not be able to effectively remove dirt and other substances. If you don’t have soap and water, the next best thing is an alcohol based wipe, which you can use to kill germs and remove dirt. We make a recommendation for such a product in our post on 7 important travel health products.

Have any handwashing tips or any sanitizing products your are a fan of? Please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Photo credit: flickr user noortje

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Annie May 18, 2013, 9:42 pm

    For kids, who have very little concept of time, its a good idea to get them to sing the Happy Birthday song (or ABC song) for the duration of the handwashing. When the song is over, they should have cleaner hands!

    • phil July 19, 2013, 11:39 am

      Great, advice, Annie! Thanks!

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