You likely washed your hands at the start of the pandemic. But do you still need to do it so much?

Handwashing Guidance, Wellington Regional Medical Center, Wellington, Florida Have you ever wondered if washing your hands actually helps you stay healthier? And do you really need to do it as much as health experts say you do?

Although handwashing may not seem very important, this simple act can go a long way in helping you avoid illness. This means you may be less likely to catch a cold, the flu, a stomach virus or even COVID-19.

Viruses and bacteria that may make you sick are found on almost all items you touch, like phones, handrails and TV remotes. Then your hands touch those things and the germs wind up on your hands. In fact, one study at the University of Colorado at Boulder found as many as 150 species of bacteria on a typical hand.

Germs can enter your body if you touch your nose, mouth or eyes after touching an object. Although your immune system attacks germs, it may not be able to kill every one. Cleaning your hands with soap and water gets rid of the germs before they can cause trouble. Handwashing can stop 20% of colds and other viruses and 30% of diarrhea-related illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other people's handwashing habits can also affect your health. For example, only 26% of Americans wash their hands after sneezing, according to an American Cleaning Association survey. Unfortunately, these people transfer their germs to doorknobs and other objects when they skip handwashing.

You may not be able to control what other people do, but you can protect your health by washing your hands more often. It's a good idea to wash your hands if you:

  • Go to the bathroom, change a diaper or handle animal poop
  • Are ready to eat a meal or snack
  • Took out the trash
  • Are cooking or preparing food
  • Touched objects in public areas
  • Were around a sick person
  • Cleaned the toilet
  • Need to change your contact lenses or put drops in your eyes
  • Touched raw meat
  • Notice dirt on your hands
  • Handle money
  • Use public transportation
  • Cough, sneeze or blow your nose

The way you wash your hands is just as important as how often you clean them. If you don't wash thoroughly, some germs may stay on your hands. Wash for at least 20 seconds and clean every part of your hands, including under the nails. A soapy lather helps germs slide off your hands and down the drain. If soap and water isn't available, squirt some hand sanitizer on your hands. As soon as you're near a sink again, be sure to wash your hands.

Don't let an illness sideline you just because you don't feel like washing your hands. Regular handwashing makes it less likely you'll get sick or spread illness. Now that's something to clap about!

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Date Last Reviewed: October 11, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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