If I tell you that it’s Global Handwashing Day today and that it’s important to spread the word about proper hand washing tell me, what is your first response?

If you’re anything like me, your first reaction might be to yawn and tell me that you mastered handwashing in preschool or kindergarten, right around the time you got your ABC’s down pat.

Well, handwashing, like many things in life, is not quite as simple as it appears on the surface.

Your Handwashing Report Card

Americans are notorious for their obsession with cleanliness and personal hygiene. However, we seem to be experiencing some sort of national disconnect between our desire to appear clean and how clean we actually are. Do this self-check.

Can you, in all honesty, say that, as the Center for Disease Control suggests, you wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food

  • Before eating food

  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick

  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

  • After using the toilet

  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • After touching an animal or animal waste

  • After handling pet food or pet treats

  • After touching garbage

Probably not.

In their fifth annual Clean Hands Report Card, the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) gave America a “B-minus” for hand hygiene based on a national telephone survey. They report, for example, that 39% of Americans seldom or never wash their hands after coughing or sneezing – a rather alarming statistic considering flu season is just beginning to get underway.

In general, we don’t wash our hands nearly as often as we should. And by “we,” I primarily mean men. Men wash their hands significantly less frequently than women, particularly after they use the restroom.

How To

So, we know we should wash our hands, we just need to start actually washing them and washing them properly.

The keys to good handwashing are:

  • Soap – Water alone is not enough.

  • Time – Wash for 20 seconds or long enough to sing through the ABCs.

  • Friction – Scrub your hands well, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

Need something fun to help you remember? Learn how to wash them Gangnam style.

Why All the Fuss?

Why spend so much time focusing on such a basic skill? Because it has big results.

Handwashing is the single most effective (and one of the easiest and cheapest) ways to prevent the spread of illness. In healthcare settings, handwashing is also one of the most important steps in stopping the spread of Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs), including deadly strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as CRE. (For more on preventing the spread of CRE, check out our related blog post here.)

So happy Global Handwashing Day everyone and to raising awareness of our need to get back to some important basics.