Handwashing 101: Avoid illness with proper handwashing

In 20 seconds, you can reduce your risk of illness.

Someone's hands lathered under a sink.
Photo: Big Stock/Hugh Stonelan.

It might sound simple, and you might hear a lot about handwashing, but keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to stop the spread of germs all year, especially during flu season. Michigan State University Extension reminds you it is critical this time of year to keep your hands clean to help combat the spread of illness.

No matter where you are or what you do, keeping your hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself from germs that can cause illness. You may not realize how many germs can be present on your hands, but we need to remember that germs are everywhere and are shared easily. No matter what your age, young or old, you can be a great handwasher and reduce your risk of illness.

Handwashing is a simple task, but it must follow the necessary process to wash away germs. To wash your hands correctly, follow the steps below:

  • Wet your hands with warm, running water.
  • Apply liquid soap.
  • Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds, remembering to wash both front and back of hands, as well as in between fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse thoroughly with warm, running water.
  • Dry hands with a single use paper towel or air dryer.

If you have children in your life, raising a good handwasher takes time. Your child will need constant reminders of how to wash hands and when to wash. Encourage them to sing a song like the “ABC’s” or “Happy Birthday,” and have them wash until they are done singing to ensure they are washing long enough to kill germs. Once handwashing becomes a habit and you make it a regular part of your child’s day, they will practice it throughout their lives.

When should you wash your hands? A few examples include:

  • Before, during and after preparing food.
  • After touching cell phone, tablet or other electronic devices.
  • Before eating food.
  • After using the bathroom.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After changing diapers or helping child use the bathroom.
  • After caring for someone who is sick.

Thorough handwashing is the best way to keep you and those around you healthy. Be the best handwasher that you can be and help teach those in your care to do the same. For more healthy tips, visit MSU Extension's Food & Health website.

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