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How Often Should I Wash my Hands?

Niki Acker
Updated: May 17, 2024

In order to maintain good hygiene and avoid transmitting disease, it is important to wash your hands regularly. While there is no specific standard as to how often you should wash, you should make sure to do so after certain activities, namely those through which the hands are exposed to pathogens. These activities include using the bathroom, coughing or sneezing into the hands, handling raw meat, handling animals, handling trash, changing a diaper, and touching someone who is ill or items that have come into contact with an ill person. It is also important to wash the hands before activities during which the risk of infection from hand-borne bacteria is increased, including eating or preparing food, tending to an ill or injured person, and removing or inserting contact lenses.

Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of disease. For this reason, it is most important during flu and cold season, and you may wish to wash your hands more than usual during such times. To wash them properly, moisten your hands and rub them together with soap for at least 20 seconds, making sure to wash all parts of the hands and under the nails, then rinse them completely and dry them on a clean towel. Hot water will make thorough rinsing easier, but it does not actually kill germs. After washing your hands in a public restroom, use a paper towel to open the door, as restroom door handles are very likely to house harmful bacteria.

If you wash your hands often, it may be helpful to use moisturizer after doing so in order to prevent your skin from drying out. This is especially true during the winter, when flu and cold season often coincide with drier weather. Though you must use soap every time you wash, be aware that antibacterial soap may not offer any benefits over regular soap, as many microorganisms are resistant to the antibiotics used in such soaps.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also an effective way to wash the hands, although wipes and cleansers that do not contain alcohol are not sufficient. Hand sanitizers are also convenient, as they can be used when soap and water are not available and they do not require rinsing.

It is particularly important to instill hand washing habits in children, since they are both more susceptible to illness and more likely to touch their eyes and mouth often. Remind children to wash their hands properly and regularly, and the habit of cleanliness is more likely to remain with them throughout their lives.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon73136 — On Mar 25, 2010

I agree. Some people are so unaware of germs and the dangers they carry.

By catapult43 — On Dec 30, 2009

Definitely washing hands before eating is an important practice. When we get used to it, it becomes second nature.

When away from home and washing hands is not practical, I try not to touch the food with my hands directly. Either utensils, or a napkin are good insulation between the potential germs from hands entering the body.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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