Celebrate clean hands

September 18, 2012|Lynn Little

Join the Clean Hands Coalition and celebrate Clean Hands Week, which began Tuesday and will continue through Monday, Sept. 24. Handwashing is important for food safety, disease prevention and personal health. Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. 

When we forget to wash our hands, or don't wash them properly, we can spread germs to other people or give them to ourselves by touching our eyes, mouth, nose or cuts on our bodies. Good hand hygiene also reduces the risk of spreading germs that have become resistant to antibiotics. Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like tables, doorknobs and telephones. 

Soap and water are the tried and true way to clean hands. It is best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds. Simple handwashing with soap and water can reduce infections by more than 50 percent. However, if soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin, and they are fast acting. 

When washing hands with soap and warm, running water: 

  •  Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.  
  •  Rub hands together to make a lather and wash hands thoroughly, including wrists, palms, backs of hands, fingers and under fingernails.   
  •  Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" twice through to a friend. 
  •  Rinse hands well under running water. 
  •  Dry your hands thoroughly using a clean paper or cloth towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel to clean hands. 

When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer: 

  •  Apply product to the palm of one hand. 
  •  Rub hands together. 
  •  Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry. 
  •  Be sure to read the product label for recommended use. 
  • For more information on hand sanitizers, visit and click on nutrition and food safety link

When should you wash your hands? 

  •  Before, during and after preparing food, especially raw meat, poultry or seafood. 
  •  Before and after meals and snacks
  •  After going to the bathroom. 
  •  After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom. 
  •  Before and after caring for someone who is sick. It is important to wash hands more frequently when you or someone in your home is sick.
  •  After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. 
  •  After handling an animal or animal waste. 
  •  After handling garbage. 
  •  Before and after treating a cut or wound. 
  •  Anytime your hands are dirty.

Practice handwashing, make it a habit and prevent illness and death. For more information regarding hand washing and hand hygiene, visit the following websites:,, or  

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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