Hand Washing: Discerning Fact from Fiction

hand-washingMyth #1: You should only wash your hands with hot water.

Soap and warm water have long been said to prevent the spread of disease and infection — but is hot water really more effective than cold?

Surprisingly, the answer is no. A 2005 study (published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine), asked participants to wash their hands in temperatures ranging from 40 to 120 degrees. What researchers found was that water temperature didn’t really matter when it came to eliminating germs.

Temperature might not matter, but time certainly does. Another study at Northwestern University found that participants who washed their hands for just five seconds did nothing to eliminate bacteria on their hands. While people who washed their hands for 30 seconds killed nearly everything.

So what’s the moral of the story? Feel free to wash your hands at a comfortable temperature, just make to be as thorough as possible.

Myth #2: Hand sanitizers work just as well as soap and water.

Though hand sanitizer might seem like a quick and easy alternative to getting your hands wet, it’s not as effective. Numerous studies, including a recent one at the University of Maryland have shown that regular old hand washing is still the best way prevent the spread of disease and bacteria.

If you’re in a pinch, hand sanitizer is better than nothing — as long as it’s alcohol based (at least 60 percent) and you allow it to dry for at least 15 seconds.

Myth #3: Frequent hand washing promotes healthy skin.

When it comes to your skin, hand washing is a necessary evil. Yes it prevents the spread of disease and infection — but too much can wreak havoc on your skin. In fact, contact dermatitis (a red, itchy rash) can develop as a result of frequent hand washing.

If you want to keep your skin soft and supple, we suggest limiting hand washing (to a point). The main goal of hand washing is to remove or reduce the number of organisms on your hand normally, as well as those picked up from the environment.

To avoid over or under washing, the Mayo Clinic recommends these guidelines:

Always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food or eating food
  • Treating wounds, administering medicine or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses

Always wash your hands after:

  • Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Using the toilet or changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal or animal toys/leashes or waste
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Treating wounds or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage, household or garden chemicals or anything that could be contaminated.

Note: These guidelines should be more stringent if you work in the food or health care industry.

Image Credit: Flickr