Washing your hands is an important part of everyday life. Dirty hands can spread germs and disease. We were all taught how to wash our hands as a child, but a team of UK researchers put into question whether we have been shown the right way. Is there only a single way to correctly wash your hands or is there more than one way to get the job done right?
The study was published this month in the Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology journal. Researchers compared the six step method and the three step method. The six step method was written by the World Health Organization, while the three step method comes from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The difference between the different guidelines is where you focus your time when getting your hands clean.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention version discusses applying hand sanitizer directly to your palms and rubbing your hands together, making sure to spread the scrub to all surfaces of your hands until they are completely dry. This takes about 35 seconds. The World Health Organization differs because it says either soap or sanitizer may be used and talks about not only rubbing your palms but your thumbs and in between your fingers as well. This method takes about 42 seconds on average.
Researchers placed focused on hand washing in hospital settings, which is probably the most important place to have properly cleaned hands. Immediate health concerns, such as infection, are very important to prevent in such situations. UK researchers closely watched hand washing practices of 42 doctors and 78 nurses at a Glasgow, Scotland hospital. Half were told to take part in the three step method, while the other half were instructed to follow the six step variation on the guidelines.
Bacterial counts were collected from each of the health care professionals after leaving the rooms of their patients. Tests showed that the WHO six step method got rid of more bacteria. Bacterial counts decreased by a dramatic 21%. Those who practised the three step method only reduced bacteria by 6%.
Now, let’s put you to the test. Have you been washing your hands properly or have you been leaving additional harmful bacteria behind? With such a dramatic difference in the effectiveness of the two methods, it is important to make sure we reeducate ourselves on how to get the job done properly. This is how the World Health Organization says hands should be washed:
- Wet hands with fresh water and cover all surfaces of your hands with soap by rubbing your palms together.
- Use your right palm to rub the back of your left hand and interlace your fingers to get the areas in between them.
- Do the same with your left hand.
- Interlock you hands by rubbing the back of your fingers of your right hand with the palm of your opposite hand, and then switch to do the same on the other side.
- Clean your right thumb by rubbing it in your right palm.
- Do the same with your left thumb and left palm.
- Wash fingertips by rubbing the tops of your right hand against your left palm and switch to remove bacteria from the opposite side.
- Rinse and dry thoroughly and your hands are clean.