Why you’re washing your hands incorrectly – and you shouldn’t rely on the sanitiser

Importance of washing hands with soap and water

Avoiding the ‘hand washing mistakes’

Hand washing is one of the most simple yet important activity that anyone, young or old can undertake – but most people make “common” hand washing mistakes that greatly reduce the benefits of the activity, according to a recent article on the Reader’s Digest website.

The report by Alyssa Jung and Ashley Lewis highlights ten types of problem that can significantly reduce the effectiveness of hand hygiene activities.

These include insufficient washing times, missing out the nooks and crannies and not drying thoroughly enough, according to Roshini Raj, MD, attending physician at NYU Medical Center. Average hand washing times, according to a quoted Michigan State University study, are around six seconds, instead of the far more effective twenty seconds that is recommended.

“Germs love to hide under fingernails and in the pockets between fingers, so you should scrub these areas every time you wash” Dr Raj is quoted as saying.

Sanitisers are of limited value

Alcohol based sanitisers can work against many kinds of germs effectively, says the report, but they do have very significant limits – not least in being unable to eliminate or control some very significant illnesses.

“Soap and water are your best bet for fighting off germs like norovirus and Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea or life-threatening inflammation of the colon.”

If using a bar rather than a liquid soap, it is essential to clean it before use – and store it properly afterwards, says senior associate dean of scholarship and research and professor of epidemiology and nursing research at Columbia University’s School of Nursing Elaine L. Larson, PhD who is also quoted in the report.

“Rinse off the bar in running water before lathering up to wash away the germy goop. And always store soap out of water (i.e. not in a wet bathtub), allowing it to dry between uses. That way, there’s no moist environment for germs to flock to in the first place.”

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