Wash Up

A recent survey found that 35 percent of Americans have spotted a co-worker leaving the restroom without washing his or her hands. There’s not much to say, but that co-worker is bound to develop a reputation. On the other hand, on another survey, people report washing their hands after using the restroom 87 percent of the time, and this matches the data from a 2010 study that observed people’s hand-washing behavior.

Regular hand-washing isn’t just a matter of convention, or even of not being disgusting—though that’s certainly part of it. On average, you touch your face every four minutes, and germs on your hands come along for the ride. Washing your hand regularly is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases such as cold and flu, and some nastier infections as well.

That means it’s particularly important to wash your hands often during cold and flu season. Don’t be paranoid about it, but be sure to remember; a good guideline is, if you feel like you should, you probably should. If you use public transportation, wash as soon as you can after getting of the train or bus. If you’re touching members of the public—for example, shaking hands at a party, or a cashier who handles people’s credit cards and gives change—wash every couple of hours while doing that.

Wash before and after handling food to prevent food poisoning. Ideally, you should wash immediately after handling raw meat (including fish and especially poultry), even in the middle of cooking. And of course, you should wash after using the restroom or changing diapers.

It’s important to have proper technique. Most people think they know how to wash their hands, but a lot of people skimp on soap or rush through rinsing. To properly wash your hands, first get them completely wet, then cover the entire hand surface with soap. Rub palm to palm for at least 20 seconds, then between your fingers. Then thoroughly scrub the backs of the fingers of each hand with the opposite palm. After that, rinse thoroughly with water, then thoroughly dry your hands. It sounds like an involved process, but each step is brief, and it shouldn’t talk more than a minute once it becomes routine.

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