How to wash your hands properly

Hand washing is one of the first lines of defence against the spread of bugs and disease, including coronavirus. But there’s a catch – it has to be done the right way.

As the world comes to terms with the rapidly spreading COVID-19, or coronavirus, health experts are urging people to go back to basics when it comes to hygiene.

Regular handwashing – with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water – is a simple but effective measure that can help protect people against the spread of infectious diseases and viruses, including coronavirus.

It can also reduce the risk of gastrointestinal infections and respiratory infections, like influenza.

In fact a new US study estimates that improved hand hygiene among people travelling through just 10 of the world’s busiest airports could reduce the spread of many infectious diseases by as much as 24 per cent globally.

But the study found only 20 per cent of people had clean hands – with the rest potentially contaminating every surface they touch.

How hand-washing helps infection control

The World Health Organisation says washing hands frequently and thoroughly with an alcohol-based hand rub or with soap and water is vital to kill viruses that may be on our hands.

“Coronavirus and respiratory infections like the flu are spread by droplets,” says Jo-Anne Martin, of the Department of Nursing at the University of Melbourne.

“As we cough or sneeze, we produce droplets that carry virus or bacteria and they settle on to inanimate objects and surfaces, like desks, cups and door handles.

“They have a lifespan outside the body and can live on surfaces for some time, so when another person touches those surfaces, the virus transfers to them and so it spreads.”

So how do you wash your hands correctly?

Step 1

Wet your hands with cold or warm water and apply soap.

Step 2

“Rub hands together, making sure soap gets around your wrists and between your fingers,” says Jo-Anne Martin.

“Rub the palms of your hands against each other and rub the back of your hands, too. Rub around your thumbs and wash hands for 20 to 30 seconds.”

Keep your fingernails clean, too.

Step 3

Then rinse with running water and use a hand dryer or paper towels to dry.

Should you use hand sanitiser?

“Normal handwashing with soap and water is sufficient and you only need to use hand sanitiser if you don’t have access to soap and water,” says Prue Cambridge, lecturer in Nursing at the University of Melbourne.

“If you do use sanitiser, don’t use too much and wait for your hands to dry naturally. Don’t wipe them on a towel because towels can carry and transmit pathogens.”

Other top tips to reduce the spread of disease

  • Avoid close contact with others as much as possible. Keep at least one metre away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to stop contaminated hands transferring any germs to these areas where they can enter your body.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your bent elbow when you cough or sneeze. Throw away tissues immediately.

Source: World Health Organisation

Written by Sarah Marinos.