Proper hand washing takes 40 to 60 seconds. It is one of the basic prevention of the spread of the disease, including the influenza virus or COVID-19. But most people wash their hands badly. We have translated the official recommendations of the World Health Organization. Print out the instructions and post it at home or at the sink.
Basic hand hygiene is cited by experts as a good way to slow the spread of viruses – including coronavirus COVID-19 or seasonal influenza. Viruses are spreading by droplet infection. Unless someone directly sneezes into your face, your hands are a possible way for the virus droplets to eventually reach your mucous membranes.
Therefore, practically all experts – the National Institute of Public Health, the Ministry of Health, WHO or ECDC – recommend that people pay extra attention to hand hygiene. This means washing your hands with soap or disinfecting them with an alcohol-based solution. Most people, however, wash their hands faster than the recommended 40 to 60 seconds. So, look at the World Health Organization’s view of the right hand wash:
This method is even more effective than the long-recommended American method. It lasts an average of 15 percent longer, but according to a 2016 study, it has led to a significant reduction in the number of bacteria found.
Watch your thumbs, back of your hand and dirt behind your nails
In particular, the gaps between the toes, the backs of the hands, the tips of the toes and the thumbs are usually neglected. Therefore, the method also includes an indicative wash time so that people know they do not have to rush the process:
- First moisten your hands with water
- Squeeze enough soap to cover the entire surface with your hands.
- Rub your hands with your hands together to foam the soap.
- Then we begin to wash the gaps between the fingers. The right hand wipes the back of the left hand with interlocked fingers (and vice versa).
- Then clean the gaps from the other side. We rub the palms together, intertwined fingers.
- Next, snap the fingers together so that the back of the fingers rubs against the palm of the other hand.
- Often the thumb is forgotten. Rub your left thumb with your right hand clenched, then wipe your right thumb with your left hand anyway.
- Finally the fingertips. Put all five fingers of your right hand together and rotate them on both sides to rub them on the left palm, the same thing the other way around.
- Rinse hands with water.
- Dry your hands thoroughly, preferably with a disposable towel.
- Stop the water without touching the tap.
- Now your hands are thoroughly washed.
Compared to the “sloppy” handwashing, the recommended thorough method is primarily directed to medical personnel. Improved hand hygiene significantly reduces the chance of pathogens spreading in the hospital (see WHO 2009 report). However, the same procedure is recommended for anyone who wants to keep their hands clean and prevent the transmission of infection.
What is the best time to wash your hands?
It is not so important how many times you wash your hands a day. Above all, it is important that you wash / disinfect them at least when it is essential to prevent the spread of infection:
- after visiting the toilet
- before eating and preparing food
- before and after contact with the patient
- after blowing, sneezing, coughing
- after changing diapers
- before touching your face with your hand
The World Health Organization states that you can either wash your hands with soap and water or disinfect them. As far as virus elimination is concerned, it is safest to use alcohol-based disinfection (liquid or gel). The instructions for proper hand disinfection are similar to hand washing. No wiping – disinfection should dry within a few tens of seconds.
While disinfection kills viruses and bacteria, washing hands washes them. Therefore, washing hands is sufficient, after thorough washing of hands there is no need to apply disinfection. Disinfection is suitable where it is necessary to save time or where thorough washing of hands is not possible.