Health Tip 101: Make Time for Proper Hand-Washing

According to a Michigan State study, ninety-five percent of people don’t wash their hands properly after using the bathroom. But as startling as that statistic may sound, BYU College of Nursing professors aren’t phased by it.

“I believe it,” assistant teaching professor Karen Lundberg says, sharing her reaction to the study. “I think too many of us are complacent and don’t want to take the time to wash hands properly.” Lundberg teaches a Global Health class across rural Vietnam. She says that proper hand washing technique is one of the first things she teaches her young patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), proper hand-washing starts by getting your hands wet and applying soap to get a lather. The next step is to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, taking special care to lather the backs of the hands, between the fingers, and under fingernails.

“We teach children to sing the alphabet song while they wash their hands,” Lundberg suggests. “It’s something they can remember and helps them wash their hands thoroughly. It’s important that they take the time to expose germs to enough soap and water.” For those who don’t like to sing their ABCs, the CDC says that singing the “Happy Birthday” song two times from beginning to end is also a great way to measure proper hand lathering.

However, assistant teaching professor Daphne Thomas adds that just adding soap and water for 20 seconds isn’t enough to get your hands clean. You also need to get good friction between your hands.


“Getting good friction during hand-washing is important because it gets the hands clean and helps get the germs off,” she says.

After 20 seconds of lathering and friction, the CDC recommends rinsing your hands with clean, running water, before drying them off using a clean towel or air dryer (for more, check out this handwashing demonstration video).

But if hand washing is such a simple task, why do so few of us take the time to do it right? Associate teaching professor Ron Ulberg shares his perspective from his time working on Intensive Care Units (ICU).

“We are constantly busy,” Ulberg explains. “Oftentimes we allow the busyness of what we’re doing to get in the way of the due diligence of hand-washing. As nurses, it’s important that we take the time to wash hands properly. We need to make sure we don’t bring in any germs when we work with the patient.” And as the weather gets colder and flu/cold season kicks into high gear, the presence of germs will only increase.

“Proper hand-washing is something that may seem really small and simple; it only takes a few extra seconds out of your day,” Lundberg says. “But in the long-run it’s so important to the health of our community.”

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