March 15, 2020

Does Hand Washing Help Prevent COVID-19?

Handwashing and COVID-19

Washing your hands properly and frequently is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from the virus that causes COVID-19. Hands are the most common ways in which microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses can be transported and subsequently cause infection, especially to those who are most susceptible to infection.


What is Social Hand Washing?

Social hand washing, or routine hand washing, is the frequent, proper washing of hands to promote health and prevent the spread of dangerous microorganisms or viruses. Cleaning your hands every chance you get is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease.

The Importance of Hand Washing

Teaching people about the proper hand washing technique has been found to:

  • Reduce occurrences of diarrhea in the general population by 31%
  • Reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
  • Reduce colds and respiratory infections in the general population by 16 – 21%

Proper Hand Washing Techniques

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you’ve been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. To properly wash your hands, follow these five steps:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water (hot or cold) and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hand and rub them together until they feel dry. This should take at least 20 seconds.

Note: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

When to Wash Your Hands 

Proper hand washing is recommended any time you come into contact with surfaces that are touched frequently by others and before or after certain activities. Of course, while frequent, effective hand washing is advised, you should try to find the right balance so that you don’t spend too much time at the sink.

  • Before and after preparing food (especially raw meat)
  • Before eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • After sneezing
  • After coughing
  • After blowing your nose
  • After touching contaminated surfaces, like handrails, doorknobs, and counters

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Tips for Proper Hand Washing

In addition to the proper hand washing techniques described above, these are things you should always do when washing your hands:

  • Avoid wearing rings other than a plain band.
  • Push your wristwatch up to your middle forearm or remove it.
  • Keep your hands and clothing away from the sink surface.
  • Use warm or cold water.
  • Keep your hands and forearms lower than your elbows to keep water flowing from the most to least contaminated area.
  • Use a lot of soap lather and friction when washing your hands.
  • Dry your hands with clean cloth or paper towels.

Don’t do the following when washing your hands:

  • Don’t touch the sink, it’s contaminated. If you touch the sink or tap at any time, start over.
  • Don’t use hot water because it opens pores and removes skin oils.
  • Don’t splash water on your clothes. The rinse water from your hands could contain bacteria that could contaminate your hands again if touched on your clothing.

Hand Washing vs. Hand Sanitizer: Which Method is Best?

There are important differences between washing hands with soap and water and cleaning them with hand sanitizer. Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to properly clean your hands and protect yourself from the virus that causes COVID-19.  Alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t kill all types of germs, including norovirus and some parasites that affect the stomach, but they’re better than nothing if soap and water aren’t readily available.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer

If your hands are not visibly dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer is a convenient alternative to hand washing when soap and water are not available.

  • Pump enough hand sanitizer to cover your hands 
  • Rub your hands together, covering the entirety of your hands and in between your fingers 
  • Rub your hands together until they feel dry; approximately 20 seconds

Is Hand Sanitizer Effective at Preventing COVID-19?

The preferred method of hand hygiene and preventing the spread of infections and decrease the risk of getting sick is by washing your hands with plain soap and water. If soap and water aren’t an option, the CDC recommends the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Learn More About COVID-19 with Baptist Health

To learn more about COVID-19 symptoms, prevention, and social distancing, please visit Baptist Health’s COVID-19 Facts and Resources page.

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