Like many everyday things in life, you don't really think about it. You just do it. Mechanically. Absorbed in your thoughts. Or listening to someone, a podcast, or music. Washing your hands is one of these things. We often forget how important it is, and how thorough and frequently we should do it.
The recent pandemic reminded all of us that corners cannot be cut if we want to maintain a good hygiene. Hand wash remains one of our most effective defenses against invisible pathogens. Ferris Jabr of the NY Times reminded us recently that "a drop of ordinary soap diluted in water is sufficient to rupture and kill many types of bacteria and viruses, including the new coronavirus that is currently circling the globe."
Hand wash “is almost like a demolition team breaking down a building and taking all the bricks away,” says Palli Thordarson, a chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales, who posted a viral thread on Twitter last month. We encourage you to read this Vox article and the full interview of Thordarson.
If you prefer to skip the detailed reading but would like a refresher with strong sources, here are a few tips for you:
- Make it a routine to stay clean: Just as you brush your teeth before bed, get in the habit of washing your hands at certain times — before eating, after using the bathroom and when getting home from work or any other activities.
- Count to 20: It takes a little time for the soap molecules to to penetrate into all the tiny folds of our skin, and break viruses and bacteria apart. That’s why you need to take at least 20 seconds to wash your hands.
- Use hand soap or hand wash: A quick rinse with just water won't get rid of all the harmful germs that could make you sick. Bathrooms, especially door handles, are crawling with germs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands with soap and water as the top way to clean our hands. “But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help,” the CDC says.
- Prioritize hand wash over hand sanitizer: Sanitizer might feel like a modern-day, scientific, and more clinical upgrade to soap, but according to the CDC, they may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Handwashing with soap and water is recommended in such circumstances.
- Skip antibacterial soaps: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn’t enough science to show that antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.