To wash your hands for the proper length of time, try singing “Happy Birthday” while you vigorously lather up with soap. The friction caused by rubbing your hands together is an important part of removing harmful microbes and dirt. Rinsing for the right amount of time is important too, so sing another round of “Happy Birthday” while you let warm water cascade over your hands. By singing a short tune as a reminder, you won’t stop washing before the soap and water have had the time they need to clean properly. You might not always want to sing the ditty aloud, but the time it takes to go through the song in your mind will help you estimate if you have lathered and rinsed long enough.

If possible, dry your hands with paper towels, and use the paper towel to turn off the tap so your hands do not become re-contaminated after you’ve been so careful washing. Don’t forget to wash under your fingernails and between your fingers! The combined actions of washing, rinsing, and drying removes most of the transient germs present.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, then hand sanitizers that contain alcohol work well to reduce microbes. You apply them over your hands, then rub vigorously for about one minute. These agents do not work if you use them with water and are not as effective if you have a lot of visible dirt on your hands.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 156 – July/August 2006