How to Wash Your Hands Properly, According to a Doctor
You likely wash your hands several times a day, but are you doing so effectively? Learn how to minimize the spread of germs with an extra few seconds of scrubbing.
If you haven't washed your hands yet today, stop what you're doing and go wash them now—with these instructions, of course. Why? Because washing your hands is one of the best things you can do to protect your health. As Rebecca Isbell, M.D., pediatrician at CareMount Medical, explains, "It is important to wash our hands properly to minimize the spread of disease-causing germs. If you are diligent about proper hand washing, you are less likely to catch illnesses—particularly those that are spread through direct contact" such as a common cold, strep throat, and the flu.
Throughout the day, we're all exposed to surfaces with a bevy of germs: Doorknobs, handrails, elevator buttons, and community pens are just a few examples. Then, we touch our faces—rubbing our eyes, moving our hair, or scratching an itch, says J.D. Zipkin, M.D., associate medical director for GoHealth Urgent Care and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. "Our hands are the vehicles by which germs hitchhike to areas they more easily infect," which include our mouth, nose, and eyes, he says. But by washing our hands properly, we can prevent the spread of these germs. Here's how to do it.
Wet your hands with warm water.
Start by thoroughly wetting your hands with warm water—avoiding very hot water, which can be overly drying to the skin, says Isbell.
Apply soap and lather.
Once your hands are wet, apply soap and rub your hands together to create a thick lather. Keep rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, "taking care to wash the palms, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails," Isbell says. Make sure you keep your hands away from any running water, so that you don't wash off the soap before it can lather.
Rinse and dry your hands.
After 20 seconds, rinse your hands under water until you have removed the soap residue. Then, dry your hands with a clean towel. If you leave them wet, you could increase your chances of picking up germs, as "dry hands are less likely to transmit germs than wet hands," Isbell says.
Wash your hands frequently enough.
You should wash your hands after any event that increases the risk of accumulating germs, says Zipkin, such as after you go to the bathroom, take out the trash, and cough or sneeze. You might also want to wash your hands after changing diapers or petting animals, Isbell adds, and before you put in contacts, prepare food, or eat—any time you might introduce germs into your body.