The rise of handwashing a vitally important life skill

Last year we moved into our current log home, a house that has TWO bathrooms. Whoo-hoo! There’s a loft with a master bathroom upstairs and a main bathroom downstairs. This is the first house I’ve lived in that has more than one bathroom. I grew up in an old Victorian house, where my 3 sisters, 2 brothers and parents shared ONE bathroom. You’d often hear someone pounding on the bathroom door, followed by someone inside calling out, “I’ll be out in a minute!”  Do you know how long a minute is? That depends on which side of the bathroom door you’re on…
Our main bathroom has a Christmas tree shaped container filled with deep green liquid hand soap that smells just like Christmas. We liked it so much last year that we’ve kept using it even after the holiday season ended. The bottle is almost empty now, and I’m looking for something to refill it with.
Why do I care about hand soap that smells like a Christmas tree? Because it makes washing your hands a more pleasant experience, and handwashing is important.
Handwashing is one of the most useful and important personal skills you can have, one that directly protects the health of yourself and your loved ones from colds, the flu, and other illnesses like coronavirus.
How should you wash your hands?
First, you have a choice between hand soap or hand gel or sanitizer. Which one is best? That depends. Unless your hands have dirt, visible soil or grease on them, you can effectively wash or sanitize your hands using either soap and water or an alcohol-based gel or foam, as long as the alcohol gel or foam contains at least 65-70% alcohol. If your hands are dirty or greasy, washing them with soap and water is more effective than using gel or foam.
In health care settings like clinics, hospitals and nursing homes, using alcohol-based hand rubs for hand hygiene is strongly encouraged because they are more convenient to use and when used properly, they can kill bacteria more effectively and quickly than washing with soap and water. Alcohol based hand gels are also less irritating to the skin than soap and water, which is important because health care workers need to wash their hands frequently during each shift as they care for their patients.
Do you need an antibacterial soap? No! The key to effectively cleaning your hands is removing bacteria and viruses from their surface by using friction and then rinsing them away, not by attacking them with a chemical.
What’s most important is HOW you wash your hands. You should rub the soap or alcohol gel over every surface of your hands, including your fingertips, fingernails, and between your fingers, for at least 15 seconds.
To keep you rubbing long enough, hum a song that takes you 15-20 seconds to finish while rubbing your hands in a systematic pattern over the tops of your hands, palms, between your fingers, fingertips and fingernails. One verse of a song like Freres Jacques, The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, or two verses of shorter songs like Happy Birthday, the Alphabet Song, or Row, Row, Row Your Boat all last about 15-20 seconds. My own personal favorite? The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.
Passing on this vital personal skill is easier now than ever, with plenty of free information available online to help teach effective hand-washing technique to your children and grandchildren.
Here are 6 Key Strategies for Effective Handwashing:
1.Do it frequently.
Wash or sanitize your hands BEFORE eating, BEFORE and AFTER caring for loved ones who are ill, AFTER using the bathroom, handling animals or pets, and sneezing or wiping your eyes or nose.
2.Check the label.
For effectiveness, make sure the alcohol-based hand gel you buy and use contains at least 65-70% alcohol.
3.Rub your hands thoroughly.
Make sure you are rubbing soap or gel over EVERY surface of your hands, especially all of your fingertips and fingernails.
4.Don’t skimp on hand gel.
Many people swipe hand gel around and that’s it. Apply enough gel so that it takes about 15 seconds to dry completely.
5.Sing a song.
Sing or hum a catchy song that lasts for at least 15 seconds while you wash your hands. It helps kids learn effective handwashing and keeps you (and them) from stopping too soon.
6.Antibacterial soap is not required.
Effective handwashing or sanitizing depends on using good technique, not on wiping with soap that contains an antibacterial chemical.

Dr. Louise Achey, Doctor of Pharmacy is a 40-year veteran of pharmacology and author of Why Dogs Can’t Eat Chocolate: How Medicines Work and How YOU Can Take Them Safely. Check out her NEW website TheMedicationInsider.com for daily tips on how to take your medicine safely.® 2020 Louise Achey

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