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Healthy Handwashing

March 17, 2020

Germs are everywhere around us. Normally, we live with germs without getting sick, but in certain cases, harmful germs cause us to get sick—or we can spread harmful germs to others and cause them to get sick.

Keeping your hands clean is the best way to prevent getting or spreading germs that cause infection or illness. Wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner, as recommended by the CDC.

How should I wash my hands?

Washing your hands is easy. Here are some tips to do it properly:

  • Use either cold or warm water, as well as plenty of soap—work up a good lather.
  • Clean the whole hand, including under your nails, between your fingers, and up the wrists.
  • Wash for at least 20 to 30 seconds. Don’t just wipe. Scrub well. Sing the Happy Birthday song to reach the 30-second goal.
  • Most people only wash their hands for about six seconds, but 15 seconds of thorough washing is required to remove germs, and 30 seconds is optimal.
  • Rinse. Let the water run down your fingers, not up your wrists.
  • Dry your hands well. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.

When should I wash my hands?

Hands should be washed often—much more often than most adults and children typically do. Bacteria and other germs can only be seen under a microscope, so they can be anywhere. According to the CDC, it is especially important to wash your hands:

  • Before preparing food
  • Before meals
  • Before and after treating an open sore, cut, or wound
  • After using the bathroom
  • After touching animals or animal waste
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling garbage
  • When hands are dirty
  • When someone around you is ill

What about sanitizer?

Alcohol-based hand cleaners may kill more germs than soap and water. Use them when your hands aren’t visibly dirty. For best results, follow these steps:

  • Choose a gel or spray that contains at least 60% alcohol. Products with less alcohol may not kill germs.
  • Spread about a tablespoon of cleaner in the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together briskly, cleaning the backs of your hands, the palms, between your fingers, and up the wrists.
  • Rub until the cleaner is gone, and your hands are completely dry.

What do I do if I’m not feeling well?

Call your health care provider. If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your doctor.


If you don’t already have a health care provider of choice, trust the experts at Northside Hospital. With primary care and urgent care practices throughout metro Atlanta, our physicians are ready to serve you and your family for all of your health care needs. Visit to find a practice convenient to you.

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