Wash Your Hands and Other Life Lessons from Mom

Nothing Like a Mother's Health Advice and Tips

When you were a kid, your mom probably gently reminded you to wash your hands before you sat down at the table for a meal. She also probably reminded you to wash your hands after using the bathroom or playing outside. Although hand washing might have seemed like a drag then, as an adult, you've realized, that as always, mom knows best.

This Mother's Day, celebrate mom and all she's done for you by remembering to wash your hands.

Why Wash Your Hands

Why did your mom put such an emphasis on washing your hands? Having clean hands can save your life, and the lives of others around you.

Think of all the things your hands touch in a day: Door handles and knobs, pets, raw meats and other raw foods, mailbox pulls and items at the store. Some of those items might have small amounts of feces or dirt on them, which can contain trillions of disease-causing germs1.

Some of those germs, such as norovirus or E. coli, can cause diarrhea while others, such as adenovirus, can lead to respiratory infections. Regular hand washing removes germs from the surface of your skin, significantly lowering the risk of you (or others) getting sick. Good hand washing habits can also help to reduce antibiotic use, which can curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria1.

When to Wash Your Hands

Mom was right: You should wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom. There are many other times when hand washing is a good call:

● After your blow your nose, sneeze, or cough.

● After you pet an animal or handle animal food or waste.

● After touching garbage.

● Before, during, and after food preparation.

● Before and after caring for a sick person.

● Before and after caring for a cut or wound.

Healthcare professionals have long advocated for strong hand-washing practices to prevent the spread of infections and illnesses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an even greater emphasis was put on hand washing as a way to reduce the spread of illness. In addition to washing your hands in any of the above situations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now also recommends washing your hands before and after being in a public space, touching your eyes, nose, mouth, or mask, or touching high-contact areas2.

How to Wash Your Hands

You have two options when it comes to washing your hands. You can either wash with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer can be ideal when you're out and about and don't have access to a sink. You can pop a small bottle of it into your purse or bag.

When you wash your hands, two things matter the most: duration of the hand washing and the use of soap. Using soap helps to remove more germs than using plain water, as soap contains ingredients that lift bacteria and dirt from the skin3.

The first step to good hand washing to wet the hands. Next, add soap, then rub the hands together to produce friction. Focus on washing the fingertips, including the nail beds, between the fingers, and the backs of the hands.

After scrubbing and lathering for at least 20 seconds, rinse the hands with clean, running water before drying them thoroughly.

If you don't have access to a sink or soap, hand sanitizer can be the next best thing for removing germs from the surface of your skin. To use sanitizer, place a small amount of it on one palm. Rub your hands together to coat them with the gel or liquid. As when you wash your hands, make sure to get between the fingers and near the nails. Keep rubbing until the hand sanitizer is completely dry.

How to Choose Hand Washing Soap

Your mom might have told you that the best things in life were the simple things, and she was right. Although there are plenty of antibacterial soaps out there, the most effective soap for handwashing is plain, basic soap. Antibacterial soap often costs more and isn't more effective.

If you're looking for a hand sanitizer, choose a product that contains at least 60% alcohol. Sanitizer with a lower alcohol concentration won't be as effective at fighting germs.

When it comes to living a long and healthy life, you really can't beat the advice from your mom. To honor mom, remember to wash your hands.

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1. Show Me the Science: Why Wash Your Hands?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html

2. When and How to Wash Your Hands, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html

3. Show Me the Science: How to Wash Your Hands, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-handwashing.html

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