You’ve Been Washing Your Hands All Wrong

Germ experts explain the best method for cleaning your mitts, especially after visiting a hospital—or the mall.

It’s been drilled into you since you were a kid: Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before you eat, and after you do anything dirty. And the majority of us do—most of the time. But new research has found that we’re not doing the best we can to promote good hand hygiene.

You’ve Been Washing Your Hands All Wrong

In a new study published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, scientists from Glasgow University say the World Health Organization’s (WHO) eight-step hand-washing process (yup, eight) is better at killing germs than the five-step process recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And other research shows that we’re not even adhering to that simpler standard as it is.

For comparison, here’s the CDC’s method:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.

Here’s a breakdown of the WHO method:

wash hand properly

Clearly the WHO method is a lot to remember and frankly, it sounds like a bit of a time suck. The researchers in Glasgow did a randomized controlled trial, in which they had 42 physicians and 78 nurses wash their hands with both the CDC and WHO methods after seeing patients. What they discovered: The eight-step process was more effective at killing bacteria but it required 25 percent more time to complete (42.5 seconds vs. 35 seconds) and only 65 percent of people actually completed the process.

OK, so it’s definitely effective. But, do we really need to go through complicated maneuvers to wash our hands?

Probably not every time, William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells SELF. “I take my hand-washing advice from a Boy Scout motto: Keep It Simple, Stupid,” he says. “The CDC method has the virtue of not having eight steps. It’s quick and easy, and you get people to do it.”

That in and of itself can be a challenge, says Kristine Arthur, M.D., an internist at California’s Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center. “Most people who skip it think it’s not that necessary, but it is,” she tells SELF. “Hand washing is the cheapest, most effective way to reduce the spread of germs.” Arthur says hand washing can prevent the spread of more minor germs, like those that cause colds and the flu, to more serious germs like eColi, salmonella, and campylobacter. Continue On Next Page..

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