National Handwashing Awareness

National handwashing awareness week is from December 1st to December 7th. Are you
washing your hands correctly? Even the most diligent hand washers among us still have room for

In nursing school, one of the laboratory experiments we completed was basic hand washing. We
put a small amount of clear liquid on our hands then washed them for the standard 20 seconds.
We repeated the experiment again for 2 minutes (as if we were going into the operating room).
The clear solution we applied to our hands was blacklight responsive. Our instructor shone a
black light on our hands to see how much residue was left. It was astounding how many solutions
remained on our hands, even after the 2-minute hand washing session. One area people,
including us nursing students, often miss is under the fingernails, around the nail beds and the
skin between your fingers.

When you should wash your hands includes not only after using the washroom and when they
are visibly dirty but also after changing diapers or helping a child in the washroom; before

preparing food; after touching any sort of raw meat – especially poultry; before and after treating
a wound; before and after assisting someone who is ill; after touching animals, animal food or
treats and after taking out the garbage.

There are proper hand washing guidelines posted in some public washrooms. Some key things to
keep in mind are:

  1. Use warm water and soap.
  2. Scrub key areas (especially nail beds, beneath nails and between the fingers).
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, or the length it takes you to sing the alphabet.
  4. Dry your hands thoroughly.
  5. (If in a public washroom) use a dry paper towel to open the door.
    Don’t forget to teach your children and little ones around you proper handwashing techniques.
    Not only are you teaching them to protect themselves against germs and bacteria but they are
    protecting others as well.

Hand sanitizers and alcohol hand cleansers work in a pinch but they should not be used to
replace all hand washing. Hand sanitizers are not effective if your hands are visibly soiled.
However, it can be used when soap and water is not available. The alcohol kills bacteria whereas handwashing removes the bacteria, dirt and spores that could potentially make you sick. Hand
washing is important to protect yourself and those around you from becoming ill.

Don’t forget to moisturize after hand washing, especially in our dry climate.

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