Answering Common Questions about Handwashing
December is national handwashing awareness month! 


Prior to 2020, people may never have imagined they would devote so much of their focus to handwashing. But handwashing took center stage in 2020, as organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touted it as an important safety measure against the COVID-19 virus.

It’s understandable to question if something as simple as handwashing can really help combat potentially deadly viruses including COVID-19. The CDC notes that handwashing is one of the best ways people can protect themselves and their families from getting sick. Understanding just how handwashing works may help people see how this simple gesture can potentially save lives.

How does handwashing remove germs? The CDC notes that soap and water worked into a lather can trap and remove germs and chemicals from hands. Water is a vital component of handwashing, especially when it’s applied to hands before soap. Water helps develop a better lather than people will get when applying soap to dry hands. This is important because a lather forms pockets known as micelles that trap and remove germs from hands.

Why is it important to wash hands for 20 seconds? Prior to the pandemic, many people likely had no idea that proper handwashing calls for washing hands for 20 seconds. So why so long? The CDC notes that studies have found that hands need to be scrubbed for 20 seconds in order to remove harmful germs. Washing for anything less than 20 seconds runs the risk of leaving germs behind on your hands.

Should I use antibacterial hand soap? It might be surprising to learn that antibacterial hand soap is not necessary for anyone outside of professional health care settings. The CDC says that studies have found no added health benefit to using antibacterial soap compared to plain soap and water, so don’t fret if you can’t find any on your next trip to the grocery store. 

Should I use warm or cold water? According to the CDC, when combined with soap, water removes the same number of germs whether it’s warm or cold. Water’s role in handwashing is to help create a lather, which can be created with hot or cold water.

When should I wash my hands? Hands should be washed any time they are visibly dirty or greasy. The CDC also recommends washing hands: before, during, and after preparing food; before eating; before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea; 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 touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste; after handling pet food or pet treats; after touching garbage

Handwashing is as effective as public health officials insist it is, which is why it should be a vital component of everyone’s daily health care routine.