How to wash your hands - All questions answered!

Posted by Agrima Gulati on


Everything you need to know about washing your hands - we have got you covered! Here are some Handwashing FAQ’s we’ve lined up for you to build your arsenal in the fight against Covid-19.

How long should you wash your hands

According to the World Health Organization, the whole procedure of washing your hands should take you around 40-60 seconds if you want to end up with extremely hygienic and clean hands with no germs. However, the CDC suggests that one should rub their hands with soap for around 20 seconds. To time the duration, it is also recommended that one can sing the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while rubbing their hands with soap. 

When to wash your hands

While it is important that a person wash hands regularly and within small intervals, it is also important to state that over washing of hands can lead to possible skin damage, removal or protective layer under the skin and in some cases, even eczema or other skin diseases. Following are the key times to wash your hands properly:

  • Before and After preparing/ eating food
  • After touching pet food 
  • After coming home from public transport or from a long journey
  • After using the facilities
  • Before and After looking after an ailing patient
  • After touching animals, animal waste or their food
  • After disposing of garbage 
  • Before and After treating an open wound
  • After getting in contact with blood or bodily fluids
  • Cleaning up After a child
  • After blowing, coughing or sneezing. 

Types of handwashing

There are a few ways you can wash your hands and although the idea is the same, the techniques vary from different procedures: 

The Social Hand wash

Social Hand wash is done to prevent any infection and control it. It keeps your hand clean physically and gets rid of any transient microorganisms on the surface of your hand. One can perform a social hand wash by using plain liquid soaps or antimicrobial liquid hand wash. Bar soaps are not preferred, especially in a clinical setting.

How to do a Social Hand wash:

Step 1: Use lukewarm water to wet your hands completely.

Step 2: Take the required liquid soap in your cupped hands

Step 3: Rub your hands from palm to palm

Step 4: Put your hands over another and rub between fingers and vice versa

Step 5: Rub your palms together in an ‘X’ form

Step 6: Rotate your right palm over your left thumb and vice versa.

Step 7: Rub your left fingertips over the right palm in forward, circular and backward motion and vice versa

Step 8: Rinse your hands under lukewarm water. 

Step 9: Use paper towels or a hand dryer to completely dry your hands. Do not use cloth towels

Step 10: Use your elbows to turn off the tap or the hand towel previously used. Dispose of the towel after you are done.

It can be done before the following actions:

  • Eating or giving medications to someone
  • Using a computer keyboard in a medical or clinical area
  • If you are about to get in contact with an ailing patient
  • When you are about to perform any clean or aseptic procedure
  • When you are about to wear your gloves
  • Preparing or eating food
  • When you are about to enter or leave an isolation area
  • Beginning of a medical shift

One should also go for a social hand wash after the following:

  • Removing your surgical gloves
  • Making the bed of an ailing patient
  • Giving a medicine 
  • Using the washroom
  • If you get in contact with an ailing patient or their surroundings
  • When your hands are soiled or dirty
  • Being in contact with blood or any bodily fluids.

The Surgical Hand wash

Surgical Hand wash is performed to kill and get rid of transient microorganisms and to reduce as many resident microorganisms from the hands as possible. It removes the debris and dirt from nails, palms and forearms. It is done potentially before performing surgery to reduce the risk of bacterial infections in case the gloves are damaged between the procedure. Only an approved antiseptic detergent (4% Chlorhexidine gluconate or 7.5% Povidone-iodine) should be used to perform it as other soaps will not do the job properly. 

Following are the steps to the Surgical Hand Wash:

Step 1: The level of your hands should remain above elbows and a sensor or elbow operated faucet should be used. 

Step 2: Apply the antiseptic detergent to your hands up to your elbows for a whole minute.

Step 3: Fresh sterile brush must be used every time for surgical hand wash for cleaning nails.

Step 4: Wash your hands with water

Step 5: Two separate sterile towels have to be used to pat dry both hands.

Nowadays, doctors are using an alcoholic hand rub instead of the above which is more effective and less irritating to the hands and is also a more efficient way to keep the hands clean before a surgical procedure. 

The Medical Hand wash

Medical Hand wash, also known as the Hygienic hand wash is the procedure used to wash your hands to get rid of soil, dirt and unwanted substances like bacteria or viruses or even harsh chemicals. The purpose behind this hand wash is to get rid of pathogens that find their way to our hands and to destroy them. It is usually performed medically before an aseptic procedure.

Steps in handwashing

Contrary to popular belief, there are more than just 3 steps while washing your hands. To get rid of all the germs and bacteria on the surface of the hands, it is essential to do all 11 steps of handwashing. 

The World Health Organization is a subdivision under the United Nations that works towards public health and healthcare measures. It is the foremost source to check when it comes to personal hygiene. It recommends following the technique given below to wash your hands properly:

  1. Run your hands under the water stream until they are completely wet
  2. Take enough liquid/soap to rub your entire hands
  3. Rub your hands together from palm to palm
  4. Interlock your right palm over your left to rub between fingers
  5. Rub your hands in ‘X’ motion with fingers interlaced together
  6. Interlock your fingers by curling them into fists together
  7. First your left hand around the right thumb and rotate clockwise. Do the same on your other hand.
  8. Rub your right-hand fingertips on your left hand in a circular, forward and backward motion. Do the same on your other hand.
  9. Wash the soap off your hands
  10. Pat dry your hands with a towel and make sure your hands are completely dry.
  11. Use the same towel to turn off the tap.
Refer to the WHO’s handwashing technique given below to know all the steps and check out the illustration for a better understanding.


Do you need to wash your hands after using sanitizer?

It is said that a sanitizer does not ‘clean’ your hands, as effectively as your soap or hand wash would. They might be effective in killing the bacteria exposed to your hands but a hand wash will remove the dirt, debris, germs as well as wash it away from your hands and entire body with water. Therefore, it was recommended by the CDC (Center for Disease Control, USA) that sanitizers should be used only when hand wash or soaps are not readily available.

Disease specialist Michael Chang claims that both are effective in their own ways and the technique matters more. However, he recommends, one should use a hand wash after using a hand sanitiser. Hand sanitizers tend to dry up your hands or leave your skin chaffed due to the alcoholic content. It has also been seen in research conducted that the germs and viruses, although dead, tend to stay on your hands after using a sanitizer. Using a hand wash afterwards not only leaves you with more moisturised hands but also rinses away dirt and germs from your hands. 

As people have started stepping out after the lockdown is easing up, many use sanitizers before eating their favourite meals they ordered. However, it is extremely dangerous to use sanitisers before consuming or preparing food.

According to dermatologist Caren Campbell, MD one must always wash hands after using a sanitiser while handling food.

Retail Hand Sanitizers are often chemical-laden and contain artificial fragrances that could be dangerous if consumed. It can make one sick and in worse cases, might cause abdominal pain and discomfort.

Hope we’ve helped clear all your handwashing questions! If there’s one habit we are so glad for these last few months, it’s the due importance the washing of hands has got.

Here’s to happy, clean and healthy hands. Truly your first steps to cleanliness.

Also read our blog on How to Wash Your Hands Without Overdrying Them?

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