How Washing Your Hands Can Directly Impact the Spread of Contagions Like Coronavirus

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Woman washing her hands to stop the spread of viruses.

Handwashing is one of the simplest ways you can protect yourself and your family from colds, the flu, and even outbreaks like coronavirus. Along with preparing your home, proper handwashing is an easy way to combat COVID-19.

How Handwashing Can Combat Viruses

Viruses can live outside the body. Along with droplets (infected particles that are spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes), contaminated objects are one of the main ways viruses can spread.

Even if you don’t know anyone who is sick, you could potentially come into contact with a contaminated object. A doorknob, light switch, or bus bench could all have a potential virus on them at any given time. If you touch one of these objects and then touch your face, you can become infected. 

However, these viruses won’t make it past your hands with proper handwashing. A virus can’t enter your body through your hands. Viruses, particularly respiratory viruses like coronavirus, can only enter your body through your eyes, face, or mouth. Frequent and thorough handwashing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stop a virus from infecting you. 

The average person touches their face 23 times per hour, making handwashing ultra-important. It’s also why the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend you wash your hands to protect against coronavirus and other illnesses. 

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

To get rid of viruses that could be lingering on your hands, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

First, get your hands wet with clean water. Turn off the water and apply soap. Lather the soap by rubbing your hands together, making sure to rub the back of your hands, between your fingers, and underneath your nails. Rub all parts of your hands for at least 20 seconds. Turn the water back on and continue rubbing all parts of your hands under the water until all the soap is gone. When you’re done washing your hands, dry your hands using a clean towel.

When to Wash Your Hands

It’s important to wash your hands frequently and especially:

  • Before, during, and after making food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after taking care of someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating an open wound 
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or helping a child use the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal food, or animal waste
  • After touching pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

How to Use Hand Sanitizer

If there is no water or soap available, hand sanitizer can help combat the spread of viruses. Make sure you use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Apply the hand sanitizer to your palm and rub it into your hands until they are dry (this should take about 20 seconds).

Even when used properly, hand sanitizer doesn’t work as well as handwashing. Hand sanitizer does not eliminate all germs and it’s not as effective, especially when hands are visibly dirty. Whenever possible, always wash your hands. 

Are Hot Water & Antibacterial Soap Better?

While you may have been told that warm water is better, water temperature actually doesn’t have an impact on how effective handwashing is. Water needs to be boiling (at least 212°F or 100°C) in order to kill germs, bacteria, and viruses. Antibacterial soap isn’t much help either. Antibacterial products kill bacteria, not viruses like coronavirus. Soap labelled as antibacterial can also contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria

When it comes to handwashing, regular soap and any temperature of water will get the job done, as long as you are washing all areas of your hands for at least 20 seconds. 

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