Most of us have been taught to wash our hands since early childhood. But the hand hygiene we were taught can be improved. Especially now during summer vacation when we spend more time out of our own friendly-germ environment and possibly traveling, it makes sense to follow sensible precautions.
When do you wash hands? Naturally, after toilet use and after touching yucky things like garbage. How about:
- Before starting to cook. While cooking, after you’ve handled raw meat. After any time you’ve handled raw meat.
- Before eating. Coming in from the street and ravenous? Take a minute to wash before attacking the meal.
- If you’re taking care of a sick person, wash before and after contact. Wash before and after treating a cut or a wound.
- Wash well after changing diapers or wiping a child or adult.
- Got a runny nose? Even if you’re not sick, do everyone a favor and wash your hands after a nose-blowing session. Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow to minimize spreading airborne cooties.
- You love your pets, but their body wastes and food are as germy yours. So wash after handling pet food and changing kitty litter or the newspaper in the hamster’s cage.
Running water and soap are your best tools for hand-washing. Remember that the backs of your hands and between your fingers need lathering too. Use a nail brush to get dirt out from under your nails. Avoid using water that’s already been used, for example, water standing in a basin.
How long to lather? 20 seconds will do it. Or hum “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice while soaping up.
Dry thoroughly. If no clean towel is available, swish your your hands around to dry in the air. Dirty towels are worse than useless, they’re dangerous, especially if sick people are using them.
A hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content will do instead of washing, but not as efficiently as water and soap, and especially if your hands are greasy or dirty with visible dirt. Rub the sanitizer between your palms, on the backs of your hands and between your fingers until it’s almost evaporated. Wave your hands to air dry.
Note that some substances, notably pesticides and heavy metals, aren’t removed from the skin with alcohol.If you’ve had contact with pesticides, wash with soap and water. Call a poison control center if the contact has been extensive, and follow instructions.
Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)-based hand sanitizers are safe when used as directed, but older children and adults might swallow some to get drunk. Bad idea. Swallowing more than two mouthfuls will poison a person.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, from 2011 – 2015, U.S. poison control centers received nearly 85,000 calls about hand sanitizer exposures among children. Children may be particularly likely to swallow hand sanitizers that are scented, brightly colored, or attractively packaged.
Hand sanitizers should be stored out of the reach of young children and should be used with adult supervision. Child-resistant caps could also help reduce hand sanitizer-related poisonings among young children.