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Do you know how to properly wash your hands?

  • November 30, 2016 3:04 PM EST

    You’re probably reading this title and thinking to yourself “of course I know how to wash my hands!”…but do you really?  Or maybe you know but you don’t actually do it?  About 40% of women and more than 60% of men admit to not washing their hands after using the bathroom and many more just do a quick rinse without properly cleaning and drying their hands.  Neither of these situations is acceptable when it comes to practicing proper hand hygiene!  But why does it matter?  Well…aside from the obvious, which is that having unwashed hands is gross…it is detrimental to your health.  Practicing proper hand hygiene is the most effective way to reduce the risk of contracting a cold or flu virus. 

    People who do not properly wash their hands are more likely to become sick, which is why I wash my hands obsessively when I’m traveling and coming into contact with so many other people and their germs.  I’ve even had people joke about my “thorough” hand-washing in the bathroom and I just smile I say “I’m a bit of a germaphobe”.  But in reality, I just don’t want to get sick!  And if you don’t want to get sick either, follow these simple steps to ensure that you are practicing effective hand hygiene.

    1. Wet your hands with warm water and apply enough soap to ensure that all hand surfaces are lathered thoroughly (i.e., 2-3 pumps). 
    2. Vigorously rub soap all over the surfaces of the hands and wrists including the palms, spaces between fingers, back of hands and wrists, fingers, fingertips, and thumbs for a minimum of 15 seconds (i.e., sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice).
    3. Rinse hands under warm running water.
    4. Pat hands with a paper towel (do not rub them) until they are completely dry. 
    5. Use the paper towels to turn off the faucet and then discard the towels. 

     Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an acceptable alternative to hand washing, except after using the bathroom or before/after handling food.  The steps for proper alcohol-based hand sanitizer use are as follows:

    1. Ensure your hands are not visibly soiled and are dry before use.
    2. Apply enough product to the palm of one hand sufficient to cover all hand surfaces.  Depending on the size of your hands and the dispenser used, usually 1-3 pumps are enough.  There must be sufficient product to cover your hands and keep them moist while you rub them together for 15 seconds.
    3. Vigorously rub product all over the surfaces of the hands and wrists including the palms, spaces between the fingers, back of the hands and wrists, fingers, fingertips, and thumbs. 
    4. Hands must remain wet with the product for a minimum of 15 seconds (i.e., sing “Happy Birthday to You” as per above). 
    5. Continue rubbing the product all over the hands until they are completely dry. 
    6. Do not wash hands with soap and water before or after applying alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

    If you practice proper hand hygiene you will help to prevent the spread of disease to others and will hopefully protect yourself from the cold and flu this season.  Sing it with me – happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…

    Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher who also has an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals.  She organizes Veterinary Wellness Workshops & Retreats for veterinarians, technicians, and other veterinary care providers.  To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here.  More information can be found at