Quick Handwashing Guide

Photo by Dhaya Eddine Bentaleb on Unsplash


Proper handwashing can protect you and the people around you against SARS-CoV-2 and a wide range of infectious germs. 

Washing your hands should be a no-brainer. But with all the different recommendations out there, which one should you follow?

When it comes to hand hygiene, soap and water lead the way.

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing your hands with soap and water.

The CDC recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds, which is equivalent to singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

You should use enough soap and then lather your hands by rubbing them together. It’s all about creating those bubbles.

Make sure you cover all surfaces, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and especially under your nails.

Rinse your hands under clean, running water. Warm or cold water? It doesn’t matter. You just need clean running water.

Once you are done, dry your hands with a paper towel or air dry them.

Here’s what WHO recommends

Credit: World Health Organization

The WHO recommendation is more comprehensive. And not surprisingly, it takes more time even though it still recommends humming “Happy Birthday” song twice.

The WHO handwashing method is what laboratory scientists’ practice.

Both CDC and WHO recommendations are legit. In general, washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds can significantly reduce the number of germs on your hands.

Are you drying your hands right?

Drying your hands after washing them is just as important as washing them in the first place. Germs can be easily transferred to and from wet hands.

Both CDC and WHO recommend drying your hands using a clean towel. But what about those hand dryers using warm air or the jet air dryers from Dyson.

This study found the use of jet air dryers lead to greater dispersal of bacteria compared to that of warm air dryers and paper towels. Dyson, one of the top manufacturers for jet air dryers has since disputed the findings of this study claiming that the artificial conditions in this study used an unrealistic amount of germs contaminations on hands and didn’t reflect the real-world scenarios. 

Overall, more studies need to be conducted before we can draw any definitive conclusions.

Nonetheless, the CDC recommends using a clean towel or air drying.

On the other hand, using paper towels have more environmental impact. So, do your best in choosing eco-friendly paper towels.

About the Author

Ameline Lim, Ph.D.
Ameline Lim, Ph.D., is a research scientist and biologist. She received her PhD from the University of New South Wales at Sydney, Australia. She has broad interests in medicine, history of science, and behavioural science. She is particularly interested in science education and the public understanding of scientific research. Her blog 'Science with Amy' celebrates the pleasures of finding things out and general curiosity.

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