With cold and flu season is in full swing, people will do virtually anything to avoid getting sick. But the best way to sidestep those seasonal illnesses doesn’t start with a pill—it starts with a sink. Washing your hands on a regular basis is the best way to keep those nasty germs at bay. The bad news? Your usual hand washing routine probably won’t cut it.
The good news? Fighting bacteria through hand washing is simple. To begin, wet your hands with clean running water. While many people believe that hot water will keep your hands cleaner, any temperature will work. In fact, a review of research published in Food Service Technology reveals that the bacteria-fighting difference between hot and cold water is negligible.
However, using hot water may make it difficult to wash for long enough. A temperature you can comfortably keep your hands in for 20 seconds is a better bet. Once your hands are wet, turn off the water with your wrist and lather your hands with soap. The friction created through lathering removes microbes and dirt from your hands.
Scrub your hands for 20 seconds, making sure to get all the nooks and crannies, your thumbs, and under your fingernails, where there is usually a higher concentration of bacteria. A good way to measure 20 seconds is to sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice.
Rinse off the soap to remove all the stuff you just scrubbed off of them. Turn off the tap with your wrist, then dry your hands with a clean towel. Ideally, wash your hand towels once or twice a week to prevent the growth of bacteria. Fortunately, nipping bacterial growth in the bud doesn’t have to mean washing your towels in near-boiling water. In fact, research published in the Journal of Infectious Disease found comparable amounts of bacteria on hospital linens washed in hot and cold water. If you don’t have a clean towel, air drying is best.
While some people assume that hand sanitizer is a safe substitute for hand washing, that’s simply not the case. Not only are hand sanitizer dispensers likely to be teeming with bacteria, sanitizer itself can do more harm than good. Research published in CMAJ suggests that hand sanitizer may actually increase a person’s risk of developing norovirus. Scarier yet, a study in PLoS One reveals that hand sanitizer may actually increase a person’s absorption of BPA, a chemical linked to an increased risk of diabetes and obesity.
However, washing your hands properly won’t do much good if you’re only washing them once or twice a day. We all know you should wash your hands after going to the bathroom, but that’s hardly the only time you should be rinsing your mitts. Give them a good scrub before and after preparing food, before eating, after handling pet food or treats, and any time you touch garbage. And always wash them after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or after coming into contact with someone who’s sick. Of course, they deserve a thorough wash when they’re visibly dirty, too.
The best way to wash your hands is thoroughly and often. When in doubt, hit the sink. And when you want to keep yourself even safer, start with the 20 Ways to Never Get Sick at Work!
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