December 4 to 10, 2016, is National Handwashing Awareness Week.

Handwashing is the most effective way to prevent germs from spreading. And while washing your hands may seem like a no brainer, it is more important than you think.

According to researchers in London, if everyone consistently washed their hands, it would prevent one million deaths a year.1 Here’s everything you need to know about the art of handwashing.

Why it’s important

Handwashing is not only important for removing germs but it is also important in fighting off seasonal influenza infections. A 2016 study by Wolter Kluwer Health found that good hygiene habits, most importantly regular hand-washing, was associated with a reduced risk of contacting influenza. People who regularly washed their hands decreased their odds of infection from 0.10 percent to 0.015 percent.2

And while washing your hands might seem obvious, a 2000 study found that less than 50 percent of healthcare workers wash their hands when they should. Of the 199 healthcare workers studied, 80 percent said they would wash their hands more if they had easier access to sinks and washing facilities.

Because you come into contact with so many patients, it is critical that you properly wash your hands before and after each appointment.

When to wash

There are many reasons to wash your hands, the most obvious being hygienic after you go to the bathroom. But you should also wash your hands before you start preparing food, during the cooking process, and again before you eat. Also, before and after caring for someone who is ill, while treating a cut or wound, and after sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing. You should also wash your hands after feeding your pet food or treats, touching garbage, or touching animal waste.4

Proper handwashing tips

Washing your hands may seem like a simple task, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compiled studies to find the perfect way to clean hands to avoid getting sick and spreading germs.

First, start by getting your hands wet with either warm or cold water. Turn off the tap and then apply soap. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. The CDC recommends lathering in between your fingers, the backs of your hands, and also under your nails as it creates friction, which helps get rid of dirt, microbes, and grease from the skin. Turn the water back on and rinse your hands. To finish, dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.5

Don’t forget to dry

Drying your hands is an important part of washing them. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research found that using paper towels is the best way to dry hands efficiently, as it removes bacteria and causes less contamination of the rest of the bathroom.6

When you can’t wash

If you don’t have access to soap and water, don’t worry. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but make sure it has at least 60 percent alcohol. Don’t rely on hand sanitizer though, as it does not eliminate all types of germs or harmful chemicals.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hygiene Fast Facts. Last updated July 2013. Accessed Nov. 2016.

2 Liu M1, Ou J, Zhang L, et al. Protective Effect of Hand-Washing and Good Hygienic Habits Against Seasonal Influenza: A Case-Control Study. Published March 2016. Accessed Nov. 2016.

3 A.D Harris, M.H Samore, R Nafziger, et al. A survey on handwashing practices and opinions of healthcare workers. Published Aug. 2000. Accessed Nov. 2016.

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When & How to Wash Your Hands. Last updated Sept. 2015. Accessed Nov. 2016.

5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Show Me the Science — How to Wash Your Hands. Last updated July 2015. Accessed Nov. 2016.

6 Huang C, Ma W, Stack S. The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods: A Review of the Evidence. Published Aug. 2012. Accessed Nov. 2016.