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How do I teach my child to properly wash their hands?

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As mothers, fathers, and caregivers around the world have told many children—the best and most simple way to avoid spreading nasty germs to other people or getting sick (such as getting a cold or the flu) is to wash your hands. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees that not only is proper handwashing important but that many diseases and conditions around the globe could be alleviated if people would wash their hands with soap and clean, running water.

Why Handwashing Matters

At a young age, children should learn that even if hands appear to be clean, they may carry microbes (tiny living organisms that may or may not cause disease) and germs (microbes that can cause disease). Washing hands not only helps prevent someone from getting sick, but it also reduces the risk of a sick person infecting others. When someone does not wash their hands properly before coming into contact with others, that person can infect someone else with the germs on their hands. Other people can also get sick from germs that unwashed hands leave on shared objects like doorknobs, toys, books, keyboards, and other equipment in the school, home, or workplace.When it comes to a child learning how to properly wash their hands, they need to know there is a little more to it than simply touching soap and putting their hands underneath running water. In fact, the CDC recommends cleaning hands in a very specific way with these five easy steps.

5 Easy Steps for Handwashing

  1. Wet hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the faucet or tap and apply soap.
    Why: The CDC states that running water is the most effective way to remove germs opposed to simply placing hands in a basin of standing water.
  2. Lather hands by running them together with the soap, making sure to lather the backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails.
    Why: Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin.
  3. Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds – or about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
    Why: Most research suggests that washing hands for about 15-30 seconds removes more germs from hands than washing for shorter periods.
  4. Rinse hands well under clean, running water.
    Why: By rinsing hands with running water, it removes the dirt, grease, and microbes—including the disease-causing germs—that were removed by soap.
  5. Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
    Why? Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; therefore, hands should be dried after washing.

Two popular handwashing myths

Contrary to popular belief, during handwashing, the temperature of the water does not appear to affect the removal of microbes and germs. So parents and caregivers don’t have to insist on their little ones using hot water that may cause skin irritation. Cold or warm water will work fine.

And when it comes to another popular belief, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has gone on record to say that soaps that contain antibacterial ingredients are actually no more effective than regular soaps. However, this does not apply to hand sanitizers, wipes, or antibacterial products used in healthcare settings.

Using Alcohol-based Hand Rubs

Children should also learn that if they have sensitive skin or are in a place where there is no soap or running water, that they may use an alcohol-based hand rub with the following instructions:

  • If hands are visibly soiled, it is always best to use soap and water. If it's not possible to wash with soap and water, use towelettes to remove the soil, then use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Children should be taught to use hand rubs according to the manufacturer's instructions, making sure hands are dry, as wet hands will dilute the product.
  • Children should use enough product to cover all the surfaces of hands and fingers.
  • For effective use, a child should also learn to rub their hands together until the product has evaporated. If dry skin is a problem, use a moisturizing lotion.

By ABC Quality Team on January 5, 2021