Hand washing

Hands are the most common carriers of pathogens. Washing hands protects!

Hands under the tap (iStock.com/Fertnig)

© iStock.com / Fertnig

Whether blowing one’s nose, going to the toilet, petting an animal or preparing raw meat: hands often come into contact with germs and can transmit them to everything that is subsequently touched. When shaking hands or through shared objects, pathogens can easily pass from hand to hand.

If you then touch your face with your hands, the pathogens can enter the body through the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes and trigger an infection.

Washing hands interrupts this transmission route. If washing facilities are not available when traveling, you should at least avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose with your hands or eating food with your hands.

Hand washing protects against infections

Family walking outdoors (© iStock.com / monkeybusinessimages)

© iStock.com / monkeybusinessimages

Many infectious diseases are transmitted via the hands. These include, for example, diseases such as colds, the flu and contagious gastrointestinal infections. Washing hands is a simple and effective measure that can protect against infection.

If you wash your hands thoroughly on a regular basis, you protect yourself and others from many pathogens. Because thorough hand washing significantly reduces the number of germs on the hands. This reduces the risk of pathogens entering the body with food, for example, or through the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes, or being passed on to family members, friends or colleagues. This is especially important in times of disease waves.

The fact that hand washing actually reduces the incidence of infectious diseases has been investigated and confirmed in many studies. Based on various studies, it is estimated, for example, that washing hands thoroughly with soap and water almost halves the risk of diarrheal diseases.

Washing hands regularly

Hands should be washed not only when they are visibly dirty. Because pathogens are not visible to the naked eye. Therefore, you should wash your hands regularly in everyday life, especially on the following occasions:

Always after..

  • coming home
  • visiting the toilet
  • changing diapers or when you have helped your child clean up after going to the bathroom
  • blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • contact with waste
  • contact with animals, animal food or animal waste

Always before..

  • meals
  • handling medicines or cosmetics

Always before and after..

  • Preparing food and more often in between, especially if you have processed raw meat
  • contact with sick people
  • the treatment of wounds

Wash hands thoroughly

Washing off dirt and also germs – it sounds easy. However, proper hand washing requires a careful procedure. Often, for example, hands are not soaped long enough and especially the backs of the hands, thumbs and fingertips are neglected.

Thorough hand washing can be achieved in five steps:

Hand washing

Hold your hands under running water first. You can choose the temperature so that it is comfortable.

Hand washing

Then soap your hands thoroughly – both palms and the backs of your hands, fingertips, finger interdigital spaces and thumbs. Think also about the fingernails. Liquid soaps are more hygienic than bars of soap, especially in public washrooms.

Hand washing

Rub the soap gently into all areas. Thorough hand washing takes 20 to 30 seconds.

Hand washing

Rinse your hands under running water afterwards. In public restrooms, use a disposable towel or your elbow to close the faucet.

Hand washing

Afterwards, dry the hands carefully, even in the spaces between the fingers. In public restrooms, disposable towels are best for this purpose. At home everyone should use his personal towel.

FAQ about hand washing

More questions? We have compiled further information and answers to frequently asked questions about hand washing for you below.

Does water temperature matter when washing your hands?

Running faucet (© iStock.com / chrisboy2004)

© iStock.com / chrisboy2004

The water temperature has no influence on the reduction of microorganisms. Therefore, the individually comfortable water temperature should be selected. Much more important are the duration of hand washing and the amount of friction when soaping your hands.

Why hand washing should last at least 20 seconds?

Stopwatch (© iStock.com / Juffin)

© iStock.com / Juffin

Washing hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds can significantly reduce germs on hands. However, according to a survey by the BZgA in Germany, more than half of the respondents wash their hands for a shorter period of time. This means that they do not effectively reduce the number of germs on their hands when washing their hands, and thus have an increased risk of getting sick themselves or transmitting germs to others.

The optimal duration of hand washing also depends on the specific situation, such as the extent to which the hands are soiled. In the case of heavily soiled hands, even soaping and washing hands for a duration of 20 seconds is often too short and is therefore only considered a guideline for normally soiled hands in everyday situations. As a guide: 20 seconds is roughly equivalent to humming the Happy Birthday song twice.

Is it useful to wash hands when soap is not available?

Hand hygiene (iStock.com/Chepko)

Washing your hands with soap is much more effective than with water alone, because washing substances remove dirt and microbes from the skin. In addition, people tend to rub and rinse their hands more thoroughly when using soap than without, which leads to additional mechanical removal of germs. Also, certain germs are found in the skin’s natural greasy film and are difficult to remove with water alone.

If no soap is available, you should still not do without washing your hands with just water. Because even with water alone, at least some of the pathogens are removed. Even though the use of soap significantly increases the effectiveness of hand washing, studies have shown that washing hands only with clean water reduces the incidence of diarrhea, for example.

Are antimicrobial additives in soaps useful?

Hands with disinfectant (© F.Ocello / Fotolia)

© F.Ocello / Fotolia

To date, there are no studies showing that using soaps with antibacterial additives in the general population (not referring to health care workers here) adds any benefit. If hands are washed thoroughly, even normal soaps are able to remove germs that cause, for example, diarrhea and respiratory diseases.

Thus, in one study, washing hands reduced the incidence z. B. of pneumonia and diarrhea were reduced by at least 50 percent, but there were no differences in morbidity between the use of soap and antibacterial soap.

It is important to use a sufficient amount of soap: in another study, it was shown that using more soap led to a greater decrease in bacterial counts for both normal and antimicrobial soaps.

Why it is important to dry hands thoroughly?

Towels (© iStock.com / Shkurd)

© iStock.com / Shkurd

In a moist environment, microorganisms are better able to persist and multiply. Therefore, hands should be dried quickly after washing. In addition, drying hands with a towel by friction additionally removes germs still adhering to hands or in water on hands.

This is why drying hands is an integral part of effective hand washing. For drying, you should preferably use clean disposable towels in public sanitary rooms to ensure that the towel itself is not already contaminated with germs.

Hand dryers can also be used to remove moisture and microorganisms detached from the skin by hand washing. While older hand dryers dry hands relatively slowly, modern devices can dry hands in 10 to 15 seconds.

When comparing the different methods of drying hands, most research results suggest that disposable towels are effective in drying hands and effectively removing bacteria. Moreover, in this way the washroom is least contaminated with germs.

Does frequent hand washing stress the skin??

Hands with laughing face made of cream (© Kristin Grundler / Fotolia)

© Kristin Grundler / Fotolia

Proper hand washing protects against contagious infections! Incorrect or very frequent hand washing, especially at high water temperatures or with harsh detergents, however, strains the skin: the protective acid mantle and natural skin lipids that keep the top horny layer of the skin resistant can be washed out.

The skin can dry out and skin irritations can be the result.

Therefore, prefer mild, pH-neutral washing substances for hand washing. Lubricating the hands with a moisturizing and refatting skin care supports the regeneration of the skin. Apply cream to stressed hands after washing or in between, as needed.

When is hand disinfection useful in addition to hand washing?

In private environments, hand disinfection is generally not necessary. Disinfectants are not suitable for visibly dirty hands. If the risk of infection is increased, it may be useful to disinfect hands after washing them. These include, for example, cases in which family members have contracted infections with bacteria such as salmonella, are colonized with multidrug-resistant pathogens, or suffer from highly contagious diseases such as influenza or norovirus infections. Even if immunocompromised people with an increased risk of infection live in the household or if relatives in need of care are being cared for, hand disinfection can be useful in certain situations.
When visiting the hospital, hands should also be disinfected when entering and leaving the hospital ward.

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