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3 Reasons Why Handwashing Should Matter to You

Posted on by David M. Berendes, PhD, MSPH, Epidemiologist

Unseen woman washing her hands with soap in a sink.

Most of us are familiar with the parental-like voice in the back of our minds that helps guide our decision-making—asking us questions like, “Have you called your grandmother lately?” For many that voice serves as a gentle, yet constant reminder to wash our hands.

Handwashing with soap and water is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to loved ones. Many diseases are spread by not cleaning your hands properly after touching contaminated objects or surfaces. And although not all germs are bad, illness can occur when harmful germs enter our bodies through the eyes, nose, and mouth. That’s why it is critical to wash hands at key times, such as after a flood or during a flu pandemic, when germs can be passed from person to person and make others sick.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them, however during a disaster clean, running water may not be available. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Here are three key reasons why you should always care about handwashing:Your hands carry germs you can't see. Wash your hands.

  1. Handwashing can keep children healthy and in school. Handwashing education can reduce the number of young children who get sick and help prevent school absenteeism.
  2. Handwashing can help prevent illness. Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the most important action you can take to protect yourself from flu. Besides getting a flu vaccine, CDC recommends everyday preventive actions including frequent handwashing with soap and water.
  3. Handwashing is easy! Effective handwashing is a practical skill that you can easily learn, teach to others, and practice every day to prepare for an emergency. It takes around 20 seconds, and can be done in five simple steps:
    1. Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap
    2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap
    3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice
    4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
    5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them

Promote Handwashing in Your Community

Global Handwashing Day is celebrated annually on October 15 to promote handwashing with soap as an easy and affordable way to prevent disease in communities around the world. This year’s theme, “Clean Hands—A Recipe for Health,” calls attention to the importance of handwashing at key times, such as before eating or feeding others, and before, during, and after preparing food.

Learn how you can get involved and promote handwashing at home, your child’s school or daycare, and your local community:

Posted on by David M. Berendes, PhD, MSPH, EpidemiologistTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 comments on “3 Reasons Why Handwashing Should Matter to You”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    What about the counter-argument to the over-obsession with hand washing and the endless application of antibacterial lotions that are everywhere today that weren’t, say, 20 to 30 years ago? What about the antibodies that can’t be developed to fight certain diseases because we don’t allow our bodies to create them?

    I grew up in the 1980s and played on the ball fields every day in the summer, and sure we (usually) washed our hands before eating, but it wasn’t life or death (literally) like the message seems to be today. Plus, it seems kids are getting sicker much easier these days and I can’t help but think it’s partially because society’s new obsession with keeping them too clean is contradictory to keeping them healthy.

    Thanks for your inquiry! Research shows that regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others. CDC’s guidance on handwashing refers to washing hands with plain (non-‘antibacterial’) soap and water. In fact, the FDA recently issued a final order banning the use of so-called antibacterial products in soaps because they were no more effective than ‘plain’ soap and ran the risk of further antimicrobial resistance concerns.

    From a nurse’s perspective, there are few things as important as washing our hands. It is one of the most important steps we can take to protect our patients, our families, and ourselves. As a healthcare worker it is vital that we prevent the spread of germs and illness from one patient to the next. Failure to do so could result in increasing illness and even death for the patients we care for. Proper hand washing can also reduce the amount of antibiotics used to treat infections, decreasing the amount of antibiotic resistance we see in healthcare. Hand washing is something that can become routine if we start teaching it at a young age. Much like brushing teeth or wiping properly, our children need to be shown proper hand hygiene and it should be enforced until it becomes part of daily life.

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