Stay Healthy with Handwashing

By Nicole Goben, MS, RD, CDN

Cold and flu season is upon us, so Handwashing Awareness Week (December 3-9) is a perfect reminder to wash your hands often! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of illness. Below are some of the basics that everyone should know about handwashing.

How does handwashing work to prevent colds?

The main way a cold is spread is through coughing and sneezing. When a sick person coughs or sneezes into their hands and then touches common surfaces such as door knobs or phones, some viruses can live on these surfaces for hours. When a healthy person comes along and touches that spot and then happens to touch their mouth or nose, they become infected. If you’re the one who is sick, washing your hands after sneezing or coughing will prevent spreading the germs. If you’re trying not to get sick, regular handwashing can help prevent germs from getting into your body.

When should you wash your hands?

• Before, during and after preparing food

• Before eating

• After using the bathroom

• After changing diapers or helping a child use the bathroom

• After sneezing, blowing your nose or coughing

• After caring for someone who is sick

• Before and after treating cuts or open sores

• After playing with, cleaning up after and feeding pets

• After touching garbage

How do you effectively wash your hands?

• Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.

• Rub your hands together with soap, making sure to scrub the backs of hands, under nails and between fingers.

• Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds or the time it takes to hum “Happy Birthday” twice.

• Rinse hands under clean, running water.

• Dry hands with a clean towel or air dry them.

• If in a public restroom, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and turn the door knob, then discard the paper towel.

Can I use hand sanitizer instead of washing my hands?

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on your hands, but if running water is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can help. Make sure to use a sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Apply the product to the palm of your hand and rub it over all surfaces of hands and fingers until it dries.

No one wants a runny nose for holiday festivities; use this information to stay happy and healthy this holiday season!

For more information on handwashing, visit: