Want to prevent illness? Learn how hand washing can help.

Posted by Edward Wojciechowski, D.O.
October 15, 2013

EdwardWojciechowskiWe’re approaching the cold and flu season, and people always want to know the secret to avoiding illness.  

“Your first line of defense against germs is washing your hands,” says Edward  Wojciechowski, D.O., family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Elmwood. “Stopping the spread of germs at home, work, school and in public settings is one key to keeping yourself and those around you healthy.” 

Every year, children miss 22 million school days from colds alone, and each working adult loses an average of four work days due to illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read on to learn more or click here to print a color hand washing poster: 

How long should I wash my hands?

For clean hands, rub your hands together for 20 seconds. To help time yourself, sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. When you finish, it should be around 20 seconds. During this time, make sure to scrub your hands well with soap; this is what will actually remove the germs. 

Should I use warm or cold water?

Warm water is preferable and the most comfortable temperature to use. Avoid using cold water, because it does not remove germs and oils as well as warm water. Oils on your hand can hold bacteria and germs. 

How effective is hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer does not eliminate germs as well as soap and water, especially if your hands are visibly dirty. However, hand sanitizer should be used if soap and water is unavailable.  Use hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

What are other ways to prevent spreading germs?

Hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs, but there are several other actions that will help keep you healthy:

  • Avoid close contact with other people
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects


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