• Kristen Nickels, MS, RDN, LD

Quick Guide to Good Handwashing

We can probably all agree that washing hands is an important step in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Global pandemic or not, flu season or not, washing hands is a simple, very low-cost practice that has been proven effective. Research shows that handwashing significantly lowers the rate of both respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, including those caused by both bacteria and viruses.


Simple as it may be, handwashing does require some effort to ensure effectiveness. Keep reading for our Quick Guide to Good Handwashing.



Washing the backs of hands and between fingers is an important step.

Wet hands with clean, running water.

Apply soap. Antibacterial soap is not necessary and is not proven to be more effective than regular soap.

Rub hands together to create a lather, adding more soap if needed.

Wash hands for 20 seconds. Make sure to include the backs of hands, wrists, between fingers, and under fingernails. For fun and to time yourself, sing the “Happy Birthday to You” song twice through to accomplish 20 seconds.

Rinse hands.

Dry with a clean towel or air dry. Avoid using clean hands to turn off the faucet.


Fingernails can harbor lots of pathogens. Use this method to clean underneath them.

See? Simple.


In case you’re wondering, the water temperature doesn’t matter. Hot water has not been found any more effective at killing germs, so choose a temperature that feels good to you. And actually, hot water can contribute to dryness, which can damage the skin, raising the risk of infection. Keep skin moisturized by choosing a moisturizing soap or using a lotion of choice.

What if soap and water are unavailable? Disinfecting with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable substitute. Just make sure to use enough to cover all surfaces, as mentioned above. The 20-second guideline is applicable with hand sanitizer, too.

Again, handwashing is proven effective at reducing the spread of infectious disease, so do it, do it well, and do it frequently, e.g. before eating, before touching eyes/nose/mouth, after coughing/sneezing/blowing nose, after touching items or surfaces frequently touched by others, and any other time it makes sense.


Cheers to staying well!

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