Washing hands saves lives

5 important things to know about washing your hands

Our hands are primary agents for spreading germs, yet few people wash their hands before preparing food, and less than 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men wash their hands after going to the toilet – two of the most important ways to make sure our hands are hygienically clean.

15 October is Global Handwashing Day and, in a bid to reduce the spread of illness through unwashed hands, the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) is raising awareness about the benefits of regularly washing your hands with soap.

“In addition to the statistics showing the percentage of people who do not wash their hands often enough, out of those that do wash, very few use soap and they do not spend enough time washing their hands,” says Jackie Maimin, CEO of the ICPA.

“Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to the people around you.”

The ICPA provides advice on five important things you might not know about washing your hands and why it matters:

Soap is key.

Washing your hands with soap removes germs much more effectively than using water alone. “The compounds in soap help remove dirt and microbes from your skin. You also tend to scrub your hands more thoroughly when you use soap, which also helps to removes germs,” says Maimin.


It takes longer than you might think.

Evidence suggests that washing your hands for about 15–30 seconds removes more germs than washing for shorter periods. According to the ICPA, the average person spends less than 10 seconds washing their hands and for every 15 seconds we spend washing our hands, 10 times more bacteria are removed.


It’s all about technique.

“Make sure to clean the spots on your hands that people miss most frequently. Pay particular attention to the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your nails. Most bacteria on our hands are on our fingertips and under our nails,” says Maimin. “The bacteria count is highest on our dominant hand. Yet right-handed people wash their left hand more thoroughly than their right hand, and vice versa.”


Don’t forget to dry.

Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands, so you should dry your hands after washing and before you touch anything or anyone. “Studies suggest that using a clean towel or letting your hands air dry are the best methods to get your hands dry.”


Hand sanitizer is an option.

If you can’t get to a sink to wash your hands with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. “Make sure you use enough to cover all surfaces of your hands. Do not rinse or wipe off the hand sanitizer before it is dry,” says Maimin.

“It is important to note that clean hands save lives. Diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia are the top two killers of young children around the world.  Among young children, hand-washing with soap prevents one out of every three diarrhoea illnesses, and one out of five respiratory infections like pneumonia worldwide,” concludes Maimin

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