Proper Hand Washing Procedure

Washing Your Hands

Hand washing is the single most important method of preventing the spread of infectious diseases. By frequently washing your hands, you eliminate up to 99.9 % of germs you may have picked up from contaminated surfaces.

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Here is a video of someone washing their hands (handwashing procedure video)

This report will examine the different methods of hand washing suggested by health experts, as well as explore danger areas, viral infections and alternatives to soap. This will be accomplished through the use of the following sections:

1) How to wash your hands
2) Why wash your hands?
     i) Norwalk Virus
     ii) Avian Flu
     iii) Food Contamination
3) When to wash your hands
4) Alcohol-based sanitizers
     i) Isogel
     ii) Purell
     iii) Hand Wipes
5) Risks of over-washing hands

How to wash your hands

Most people wash their hands constantly, but few know the proper procedure to ensure their hands are decontaminated. The following guidelines are based off of information found on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, .

1) Wet your hands under warm, running water. Avoid contact with the faucet after this point.
2) Lather the soap on your hands for at least ten to fifteen seconds and then rub your hands together vigorously.
3) Wash your palms, in between your fingers, under your fingernails and the back of your hand; focus on the ends of your fingers.
4) Rinse your hands thoroughly under the warm running water.
5) Dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel from a receptacle.
6) Turn off the water using the towel to turn the nozzle. This will help to avoid re-infection.

By following the above steps, decontamination is assured. The entire process should take no longer than a minute and can be done in pretty much any sink.

Why wash your hands?

Washing your hands is the most effective method of controlling infectious diseases. This section will study the Norwalk virus, Avian Flu, and food contaminates, all of which are negated by properly washing your hands.

Norwalk Virus

The Norwalk Virus has been making headlines for years now, usually associated with medical facilities or cruise ships. It is an intestinal illness contracted by ingesting stool-contaminated food or water; raw oysters are also thought to be a source. Surfaces become easily tainted with the Norwalk virus, which in turn contaminate those who touch the surfaces. The disease can then be contracted by rubbing an infected finger near the eye or mouth.

The Norwalk Virus causes severe stomach cramps, profuse vomiting, diarhea, and nausea. These will not usually become evident until 1 – 2 days after exposure. Though hospitalization is usually not necessary, the uncomfortable symptoms last from 2 – 3 days.

Humans are the only source of this virus, and it can not replicate outside the human body. The best way to control the Norwalk virus is to wash your hands after every visit to the toilet, before/after you handle uncooked food, especially shellfish, and before you eat. This will ensure you do not pass the virus along.

Avian Flu

Though not yet a serious threat to humans, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza is considered by experts the precursor to an epidemic. In 1997, the first human case of avian flu was reported, and the number has grown each year. Recent information suggests that for the first time, a human to human case of avian flu contraction has occurred in China.

Bird flu, as it is otherwise know, is spread by contact with the secretions or excrement of infected fowl. The contagion is easily passed to domesticated poultry such as chickens and turkey; human workers pick up the virus through contact with these birds.

Symptoms of the virus are traditionally flu-like: fever, sore throat, coughing, muscle aches, pneumonia, eye infections etc.

What makes Avian Flu so feared by the medical community is the lack of exposure the human body has had to the various subtypes of the virus. Our bodies have no natural immunity to it, and are therefore at their most vulnerable. If Avian Flu is able to easily spread among humans, as experts predict, it could wreak havoc.

Because the virus is not airborne, proper hand washing techniques have been shown to lower the risk of contracting Avian Flu. Wash your hands after coming in contact with any fowl or surface where the fowl may have been.

Food Contamination

Food poisoning is one of the most common forms of bacterial infection, with case estimations reaching 76 million annually; many incidents go unreported because the symptoms are not recognized as food poisoning.

Contamination is caused by raw meat, vegetables, fruit and poor sanitary conditions. More than 200 known diseases can be transmitted through contaminated food, including salmonella, rotavirus, and hepatitis A.

Cleanliness is the cure for food-borne infections. Food handlers should wash their hands every time they work with a different food item, and should avoid cross-contaminating surfaces. Restaurant regulations require that sinks be made available in the near vicinity of where the food is prepared and that antibacterial soap be used.

Care should be taken by the diner as well. Washing your hands before a meal will rid them of any bacteria and viral agents. If you leave the table, wash your hands before you come back, as you may have come in contact with contaminated surfaces, such as walls, railings or handles. 

When to wash your hands

It is common in most households to wash your hands before you eat, but there are many, many other instances.

There are still people who do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Feces-borne bacteria can infect every surface in the bathroom, and will spread throughout the house by that individual who did not wash their hands.

If you work in an environment where you deal with money, make sure to wash your hands at least once an hour. Money has been shown to be one of the most contaminated articles in our possession. Avoid rubbing your eyes or scratching your face until you have washed your hands. This same rule applies if you work as a professional cleaner. Gloves will protect you from most contagions, but wash your hands every time you take them off.

Etiquette dictates covering your mouth while you yawn, sneeze or cough. Not only is this polite, it serves to limit the spread of germs. Every time you cough or sneeze into your hands, wash them immediately. This will help to avoid contaminating surfaces and other people.

Animals, domesticated or otherwise, carry germs that can be harmful to humans. Try to wash your hands after coming into contact with any animal, including family pets (you do not know what they have rolled in).

Hospitals and senior’s homes recommend you wash your hands as you enter and leave. This is to prevent infection of the patients and for your own protection. Most medical institutions provide hand sanitizers at various stations throughout the facility. If this is not available, seek out the nearest washroom.

Schools and daycares are breeding grounds for all types of bacteria. Wash your hands frequently and make sure the children do as well.

Lastly, if you have come into contact with grass or dirt, wash your hands as soon as possible. Dirt contains many bacteria that could be harmful to humans, and grass is the favorite bathroom of the neighborhood animals. 

Alcohol-Based Sanitizers

There will be many instances where washing your hands is impossible due to lack of water, soap or otherwise. In this case, alcohol-based sanitizers come to the rescue. They are a special brand of sanitizer that doesn’t require rinsing, and they claim to kill almost 100% of germs. They usually come as a gel or a rub cloth.

Because they are alcohol-based, the residue evaporates off of your hands after about 15 seconds, leaving them safe to touch your eyes and mouth. This also makes them safe for use by children, but only under supervision.

Two of the more popular brands of alcohol-based sanitizers are Isogel and Purell.


Purell hand sanitizer contains 66% ethyl alcohol and kills 99.99 % of common household germs. It can be used anytime and in anyplace, without towels, and is available in small bottles that fit anywhere.


Isogel-x medical hand disinfectant is a hospital-grade hand sanitizer containing 60% ethyl alcohol. It is waterless and comes in portable bottles.

Hand Wipes

Hand wipes are manufactured by countless companies, but all serve the same general purpose. They are a pre-moistened, pre-packaged cloth containing at least 60% alcohol and some form of moisturizer. They are proven effective against most types of bacteria and are perfect for picnics, camping and other outdoor activities.

The downside to alcohol-based sanitizers is that they are only effective when no visible dirt is present. They are not meant as a replacement for soap and water, only a supplement when soap and water are not available. As well, they will not remove allergenic food residues, such as peanuts or shellfish.

People with open cuts will want to avoid alcohol-based hand sanitizers because they may cause further irritation.

There have been also cases of dry skin resulting from the overuse of hand sanitizers. If this occurs, use a hand lotion after disinfections.

Risks of over-washing hands

As with the overuse of hand sanitizers, dry skin can result from regularly washing your hands. To avoid this, use a moisturizer after you finish washing.

Antibacterial soaps are meant for use in restaurants and hospitals. Little evidence exists showing that they are more effective for home use than regular soap. Besides, most common household illnesses result from viruses, which are immune to antibacterial agents. Antibacterial soap has been linked to the rise of ‘superbugs,’ bacteria that have survived counteragents and developed resistant genes, leaving them immune to common cures. 

Report Summary

Hand washing is the most important step in the protection against illness. This report has outlined how to wash your hands properly, reasons for washing your hands, alternatives to soap and water, and explained the risks of over-washing. By following these guidelines, you can dramatically raise your overall well-being, as well as lower the risk of disease transmission.
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