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Published on September 17, 2019

closeup of person washing hands

Handwashing: The Best Way to Stay Healthy this Cold and Flu Season

We are fast approaching cold and flu season, and that means it is more important than ever to practice good handwashing skills. Handwashing is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and in stopping the spread of germs.

There is a right way to wash your hands. When you fail to wash your hands, wash them incorrectly or don’t wash for the recommended 20 seconds, you are essentially just spreading the germs around on your hands and then to anything you touch afterwards.

How to wash your hands correctly:

  • Turn on the faucet to warm water and get your hands wet.
  • Turn the water off and put on soap.
  • Once you have your soap, create a good lather without water for at least 20 seconds. This is often the step people skip -- they wash their hands with the soap under the water when you should be lathering your hands outside of the water first.
  • When lathering your hands, scrub the backs, fronts, between the fingers and under your nails. A good song to think of when trying to gauge 20 seconds is “Happy Birthday.” Sing this twice through and you should be close to 20 seconds.
  • Turn the water back on and put your hands back under the water to rinse off the soap.
  • The final step is BEFORE you turn off the faucet grab your paper towel and dry your hands completely. If there are no paper towels then dry your hands with the air dryer. You will then use the paper towel to shut off the faucet and open the bathroom door to exit before throwing your paper towel in the trash.
  • If you don’t have a paper towel try to use your sleeve to open the door to prevent any germs that may be on the bathroom door handle from getting back onto your hands.
  • In the event handwashing isn’t a possibility you can use hand sanitizer but this should NEVER be used to replace good handwashing practices. When using hand sanitizer it should be comprised of at least 60% alcohol; rub in the hand sanitizer until your hands are dry.

You should wash your hands often, including:

  • Before, during and after food preparation
  • Before eating
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after performing first aid, such as bandaging a cut
  • After using the toilet, changing diapers or assisting a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, animal waste or handling their food or treats
  • Anytime your hands are physically dirty
  • After touching garbage

Now that you know how to properly wash your hands we hope you have a happy and healthy fall and winter!

By Beth Lucht, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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