One of the easiest and most effective ways to keep yourself from falling sick is handwashing. When your hands are clean it can prevent germs from spreading to others.

There is scientific proof that washing your hands with soap and water can guard you from the germs that cause infections such as the common cold and flu, pneumonia, Hepatitis A, stomach infections and other contagious illnesses. I mean, the last thing you want to do is stay home sick and miss that trip simply because you didn’t wash your hands, right?

When is the best time to wash your hands?

Did you know that animal and human poop is among the most potent sources of germs? Just one gram of poop has a trillion germs. But the good news is, when you follow proper handwashing techniques you can stop these germs from spreading.

Here are the most important occasions to wash your hands.

  • Before, during and after preparing food while cooking
  • Before eating food
  • If you are a caregiver, before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • If you are tending to a cut or injury, before and after treating the wound
  • After you use the washroom
  • After changing a child’s diaper or cleaning her up once she has been on the potty
  • After you blow your nose, cough or sneeze
  • After touching an animal, animal food or animal poop
  • After touching garbage

Now let’s look at the correct way to wash your hands.

Turn this ten-step routine into a habit.

  1. The sink where you wash your hands, including the tap can be contaminated, so avoid touching these.
  2. Turn on the tap with a paper towel before wetting hands and wrists.
  3. First, wet your hands with clean running water. This can be warm or cold. Warm is ideal.
  4. Then turn off the tap, and apply a mild soap.
  5. Work up a good lather, all the way up to your wrists by rubbing your hands together.
  6. Make sure you lather the back of your hands, between your fingers and under the nails, around and under finger rings, if you are wearing any.
  7. Continue scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. To help you keep time, hum a song.
  8. Now rinse your hands in clean, running water. Point your fingers down to avoid contaminated water from going back to your elbows.
  9. Dry your hands completely with a clean towel or with an air-dryer.
  10. If you are in a public place, remember to use a paper towel to turn off the tap, and also use one to open the door, since door handles harbour germs.

Soaps are an active breeding place for germs, so clean soap dispensers thoroughly before refilling them.

You’re probably thinking, what to do if there’s no soap and running water?

I recommend carrying a hand sanitizer in your bag for those times when you don’t have access to soap and running water. Choose one that is alcohol based, and check the label to see if it states at least 60% alcohol. This helps reduce the number of germs, but do remember that sanitizers are not 100% effective. For example, if your hands are grimy or greasy, hand sanitizers are not enough. Moreover, they cannot get rid of chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals.

While using hand sanitizers with children, teach them how to use it. Make sure they know that swallowing it can cause alcohol poisoning..

Here’s how:

  • Flip the cap
  • Apply the sanitizer to the palm of one hand after you read the label to check how much.
  • Rub hands together
  • Then rub the sanitizer all over your hands including fingers until they dry.

No hand sanitizer? Use antiseptic tissue or towels. Then, as soon as you have access to running water and soap, make sure you wash your hands.

Finally, remember that what really protects us from infection and germs is our skin, and not the soap. Do not become over-obsessed with handwashing. Washing hands more often than necessary can weaken your defence system, and wash away the protective oils in the skin, making it dry and open to infection.

Happy handwashing!