Washing your hands might seem like a simple thing, but when you’re trying to stay well, it’s a powerful strategy.
Why? One of the main ways cold and flu-causing viruses spread is when someone touches something that’s contaminated with the virus – such as a door handle or someone else’s hands – and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth .
And when you learn that viruses can survive on unwashed hands for 30 minutes, a handkerchief for up to 12 hours and some hard surfaces for several days – and that we touch our face about 23 times an hour – it makes sense that ‘hands’ are one of the most common ways viruses spread .
Considering how long viruses survive on handkerchiefs, it also makes sense to use a disposable tissue when you’re blowing your nose or to contain a cough or a sneeze – and that you bin it as soon as you’ve used it, before washing your hands immediately .
How to wash your hands
The short story is, it takes a lot more than a quick splash under some running water to clean your hands properly.
The longer story is that there are 5 steps you need to run through every time you wash your hands, in order to achieve a squeaky clean and germ-free result every single time.
1. Wet your hands with clean, running water – either warm or cold is fine. Turn off the tap and apply some soap.
2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap, taking care to lather the backs of your hands, in between your fingers and under your nails, as well as your palms and fingers.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. The general advice to make sure you stay on this step for long enough, is to keep going until you’ve hummed the ‘Happy Birthday’ song from beginning to end, twice.
4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
5. Dry your hands thoroughly, using a clean towel. You can also air dry them .
What about hand sanitisers?
Washing hands with soap and water is considered the ‘gold standard’ for getting rid of germs, but alcohol-based hand sanitisers are an effective alternative .
While hand sanitisers don’t perform as well as soap and water for removing a number of germs, including some that cause stomach bugs , they are recommended to remove the viruses responsible for colds and flu when you can’t get your hands on soap and water .
The trick is choosing and using a product that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol, applying enough of it and allowing it to dry completely on your hands before touching anything .