5 Handwashing Steps to Ensure Effectiveness and Protect Yourself Against Infections

In this post, I’ll detail 5 handwashing steps you’ll need to ensure efficient hand hygiene. This will help you protect yourself against infections and equally mitigate the transmission of diseases such as COVID-19.

Handwashing is a cost-effective way of preventing infections and the spread of germs. This makes it the most recommended approach in combating coronavirus. In fact, statistics from WaterAid shows that there is about 16 – 23% and 50% reductions in acute respiratory infection and pneumonia respectively, all linked to proper handwashing with soap.

Without any rocket science, we understand the need to frequently wash our hands.

Washing your hands regularly reduces the risks of transferring microbes and disease-causing organisms to other parts of your body. The outbreak of COVID-19 has made this hygiene practice more necessary than it was a few years ago.

While many people are taking this practice seriously, a few others are yet to see the need for it. Either way, if you’re among those who regularly or occasionally wash their hands, one question beckons:
Do you wash those hands rightly?

It’s one thing to wash your hands and another to wash them properly. Again, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to recommendations of what constitutes proper handwashing. I will detail these recommendations in these handwashing steps to help you and others improve the way you wash your hands.

The details and guides from these steps integrate proven research and recommendations from public health agencies and individuals including The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), WaterAid, and World Health organization

Let’s dive in…

5 Handwashing Steps you must follow

The 5 handwashing steps you should often follow to increase effectiveness and protect yourself and others from infections are:


Step 1: Wet your hands with clean running water

The very first handwashing step is to turn on the tap and wet both hands thoroughly with clean running water. Wetting both hands with water sets the tone for dissolving chemicals and hooks from germs on the surfaces of your hands.

As much as possible, wet all the parts of your hands – both the palms and backs of the hands.
You can use either hot or cold water. Researchers have found both temperatures to be equally effective in removing germs. However, be mindful of the water temperature as a higher temperature can cause burns or irritations to the skin.

The use of clean running is highly recommended for a few health-related reasons. In step 4, I have detailed the need to use clean running water in wetting and rinsing your hands.

Also, I’ve provided an alternative idea for creating a running-water approach that ensures that you don’t re-contaminate your hands from stagnant water.

Step 2: Lather the hands with soap

Handwashing can only be effective if you apply soap to the water used. This is because soaps (or detergents) have the ability to dissolve some compounds. This, therefore, makes it possible for you to wash-off microbes and germs from your hands.

You should prefer applying soap whenever you wash your hands because it’s more effective than using water alone. Aside from the dissolving ability that the soap provides, it equally creates a good surface for you to scrub your hands properly.

According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, CDC:

Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs.

So, whenever you wash your hands, apply soap properly across both surfaces of your hands to improve the removal of germs and equally ease the scrubbing.

There has been a question about whether to use antibacterial or just normal soaps. Mostly, answers to this question seek to determine which of them is more effective in removing germs from the surfaces of the hands.
Results from researches show contrasting opinions.

While it is thought that antibacterial should improve the removal of germs, evidence has shown otherwise. CDC states that there hasn’t been any research supporting the health benefits of using antibacterial soaps outside healthcare environments.

In fact, The US Food and Drug Administration banned the sales of antibacterial soaps containing specific ingredients. According to them, the presence of these ingredients does not demonstrate any benefit over normal soaps.

However, Health Engine suggests that medical personnel should use antibacterial soaps before touching patients and that the washing should last at least 60 seconds as against the recommended 20 seconds for normal soaps.


Step 3: Scrub both hands

Having lathered your hands with soap, the next handwashing step is scrubbing them. Scrub all the surfaces of your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Well, you don’t necessarily need a timer to track the seconds.
You can unconventionally track the time needed by singing the popular “Happy Birthday” song twice.

While washing your hands, ensure to scrub the following parts:

  • Your palms and backs of your hands
  • The wrist
  • In-between your fingers
  • Under your fingernails

Scrubbing these parts thoroughly increases the chances of removing germs from your hands.
But, must the scrubbing take at least 20 seconds? And why?

Well, there have been several opinions. Notably, experts recommend between 15 -30 seconds for people outside the healthcare system. Those in the healthcare system should wash their hands for at least 60 seconds.

The World Health Organization suggests that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds also. According to WHO, it helps removes more germs and chemicals from the hands.

In answering the why, Jerry Carnes stated: “Soap needs time to trap, dissolve, then carry viruses away from the hands and down the drain.” The more time you use to scrub your hands the better the chances of washing off germs. On the other hand, the implication of using lesser time is that fewer germs will be removed.

The goal of handwashing is to remove as many disease-causing organisms and substances as possible from our hands. Hence, scrubbing properly for a reasonable period of time will remove many of these organisms and substances.


Step 4: Rinse with clean water

If you have followed the scrubbing step, then you need to rinse your hands with clean running water to wash off germs and other contaminants from your hands. Ensure that the water reaches all the parts of your hands you scrubbed and beyond.

While allowing the running water to run through, mildly scrub your hands to improve how the water takes off the germs and other chemical substances away from your hands into the drain.

There are basically two things to note here. The water must be:

  • Clean, and
  • Running

Clean water is void of bacteria and contaminants. This is different from dirty or unclean water. Using unclean water exposes you to infections as microbes from the water will stick to your hands. This is because unclean water inhabits several microbes.

In some parts, people warm their water before using it. While this is considered a good practice, warm water can sometimes cause skin irritation depending on the temperature. Nevertheless, those without clean water can often warm their water before washing their hands.

But this is not a convenient and sustainable approach.

Also, running water is recommended for rinsing one’s hands for the same purpose of preventing the re-contamination of the hands from already used water. This is safer as stagnant water exposes users to possible infections, especially if someone has used the water before.

CDC agrees with this and strongly recommends the use of running water. According to them:

… hands could become re-contaminated if placed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use …

Running water does not necessarily need to come from a tap. Turning water over from a bowl on your hands provides a local safe running water strategy that individuals can use in the absence of a tap-based wash facility.


Step 5: Dry your hands

The last handwashing step involves drying your hands. Health experts have recommended two major hand-drying approaches:

  • Drying with a clean towel or tissue paper
  • Air-drying

So, it’s either you use a clean dry towel to thoroughly dry your hands or allow the drying effect of the air, preferably from a clean dryer, to do the drying.

You should properly dispose of any tissue paper used in drying your hands and equally avoid the reuse of such. Towels can be reused at home but should be kept clean and changed immediately when visibly dirty.

The use of any of the two drying methods depends on you. However, note that germs and microbes thrive in and can be easily transmitted by wet hands. Therefore, ensure to dry your hands as fast as possible to avoid re-contamination.


handwashing steps

Credit: WaterAid


Hand hygiene is vital in preventing the spread of germs and viruses. It protects you and others from infections and ensures that you remain healthy. Handwashing remains the most effective hand hygiene out there.

However, you need to properly wash your hands to reduce the risks of infection. These handwashing steps, which I’ve summarized below, are vital to staying safe.

Let’s take a look at the key steps and points again:

  • Wet your hands thoroughly with clean running water.
  • Lather both hands with soap and make sure you’ve formed enough lather.
  • Scrub the palms, backs, in between your fingers, and under the fingers of your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse the hands with clean running water to wash off the lather, germs, and chemicals.
  • Dry your hands as soon as possible to avoid re-contamination or the transmission of germs.

I hope these steps help you to maintain effective hand hygiene and stay protected against infection!
Don’t forget, share to help other people improve their hand hygiene.

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