How to Wash Your Hands: Tips from a Pro

Get hand-washing advice from a doctor, including how long to scrub and whether you need antibacterial soap.



Proper hand-washing technique is important in preventing the spread of illness.

Each fall I teach my children’s preschool a lesson on hand hygiene. Quite intentionally I plan this for the start of flu season, hoping to minimize the spread of illnesses around our classroom.

Without fail, my children are always embarrassingly bad when judged on the thoroughness of their hand washing, which always gets laughs from the audience.

In terms of things that I teach children, hand washing may be one of the most important. In my preschool lesson I use a fluorescent hand gel called Glo-Germ and a blacklight flashlight to simulate how well they wash their hands and the “germs” that are left behind from poor technique.

I also teach them to cover their cough by sneezing or coughing into their elbows or cough pocket instead of their hands. The kids love these visuals and proudly tell me whenever I’m in the classroom about how they used their cough pocket. The other parents often tell me that their kids become more vigilant hand washers and monitors at home.

Beyond my love of visiting my children’s classroom, the CDC says that teaching people in the community about hand washing reduces diarrhea and respiratory illnesses. Some studies have shown a 16–21 percent reduction in respiratory illnesses, such as colds, in the general population after hand-washing education. It also reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in school children by 29–57 percent.

While we all know when and how we should wash our hands, it is also a skill that we can be lazy about and reminders about technique can help keep us healthier.

So make sure you wash your hands well this season or else a local preschooler may give you a lecture on hygiene.

Katie Lockwood, MD, is a mother and pediatrician in Philadelphia and a contributor to MetroKids’ MomSpeak through her Mommy Call blog. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

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