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Hand Washing 101 - The Proper Techniques

December 03, 2013

“As families get together for the holidays and people are spending more time in crowds shopping or attending large celebratory gatherings, or even traveling, it’s easy to catch the flu or a cold by touching someone or something contaminated by one of these viruses,” said Dr. Sarah Haessler from the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center.

December 1-7 is National Hand Washing Awareness Week and with the holidays now in full swing, it’s important to clean your hands frequently to prevent catching a cold, flu or stomach bug.

According to a national survey released earlier this year conducted by Bradley Corporation, 75 percent of Americans don’t adjust their hand washing habits seasonally, despite the fact the flu season strikes each winter. The survey also revealed that those who do wash their hands are not washing them long enough.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Baystate Medical Center, the right way to wash your hands involves:
• Wetting your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and applying soap.
• Rubbing your hands together to make a lather and scrubbing them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
• Continuing to rub your hands for at least 15 seconds or as long as it takes to hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
• Rinsing your hands well under running water, then turning the faucet handle off with a paper towel or your elbow.
• Drying your hands using a clean towel or air dry. Drying your hands is important to prevent chapping.
It’s also recommended to wash your hands:
• Before, during and after preparing food.
• Before eating food.
• Before and after caring for someone who is sick.
• Before and after treating a cut or wound.
• After using the toilet.
• After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet.
• After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
• After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste.
• After touching garbage.
“It’s not always possible to be near a water source when hand washing is needed. If soap and water are not available, it’s recommended that you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% or more alcohol,” said Mary Ellen Scales, RN, chief, Infection Control Officer, Baystate Health, who noted the sanitizers are available in liquid, gel or towelettes.

Baystate Medical Center offers the following additional tips for at home and at work during the holiday season:

• Consider gifts of hand gel for friends and family - it is a gift everyone can use. Make sure the active ingredient is alcohol, at 60 percent or more.
• For children under the age of 5, monitor their use of hand gel, providing a dose of the product rather than the bottle to them, then making sure that they rub their hands until dry (important because alcohol is flammable).
• If you are planning or attending holiday buffets, a pump dispenser of alcohol hand gel at the beginning will make all those common utensils like spoons and ladles cleaner.
• Winter is harsh on hand skin health. Besides keeping them warm, keep them clean and moisturized. Wear winter gloves in cold weather to keep your hand skin from drying out.
• Tips for when you wash to keep your hand skin healthy:
o Use cool to lukewarm water.
o Rinse all soap off to prevent skin irritation.
o Dry well.
o Apply moisturizer.

For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit