5 Common Hand-Washing Mistakes


Washing your hands may sound simple, but you could be making mistakes that make your hand washing less effective and leave you susceptible to the flu or other infections.

According to Dr. James Malow, an infectious disease specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, there are five common slip-ups most people make when trying to get their hands clean:

  1. Not washing long enough—You may often be in a rush and think just using soap and water will be enough. Experts say you should wash for at least a full 15 to 20 seconds. According to one study, only 5 percent of participants met that standard. If you don’t want to count the seconds, try singing “Happy Birthday”—twice.
  2. Not washing often enough—Do you wash every time you use the restroom? According to the study by researchers at Michigan State University, 10 percent of the more than 3,100 participants didn’t wash at all. And it’s important to wash your hands not only after using the restroom, but after handling garbage, before you eat and even after you’ve touched surfaces in public areas that may contain flu and cold germs, such as stores, gyms and public transportation.
  3. Insisting on antibacterial soap—This may sound like a more effective way of fighting germs, but that’s not necessarily the case. Any soap, if used properly, is just as effective at killing germs. Concerns have also arisen that antibacterial soaps may contribute to a rise in drug-resistant bacteria, as well as the growth of liver tumors.
  4.  Not drying off completely— If you’re not drying your hand completely, you’re only doing half the job. Germs thrive in moisture, so even if you’ve used soap, you open yourself up to contamination if you don’t dry thoroughly.
  5. Touching bathroom surfaces—As seen with recent outbreaks of norovirus in closed quarters, like cruise ships, faucets, counters and other restroom surfaces are breeding grounds for harmful bacteria. After you’ve washed use a clean towel to turn off the tap and open the door in public restrooms. It’s a good idea to do this at home too if a family member is sick.

“Clean hands save lives,” Dr. Malow says. “Hand-washing is simple, effective and proven to help avoid the spread of illness like the flu. Pay attention to how you’re washing and you’ll effectively protect yourself and those around you.”