If we are feeling a little (or a lot) out of control of our lives right now, perhaps a vigorous hand washing can help. Running water, plain old soap, and a serious scrub can kill the germs that cause viruses.

Used to, we would lift a gas pump handle without thinking about it. Now, we are acutely aware of high-touch public surfaces like gas pumps, door handles, shopping carts, and electronic check-out touch screens.

My car has no portable sink, unfortunately, so I use a glob of hand sanitizer after pumping gas or getting groceries. However, hand sanitizer only kills a portion of the bad germs. I hurry home to wash the rest of the invisible enemies away.

With all the press that masks have been getting lately, we haven’t heard as much about hand washing. However, cleaning our hands in the right way at the right times is just as essential for stopping the spread of viruses and bacteria.

To kill the most germs, we should follow a five-step plan: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry. Each step has science behind it.

Wet. Wetting our hands under clean running water is the first step. The “running” part is important because standing liquid can get contaminated. The water can be hot or cold. We should turn off the tap to save water before moving to step two.

I have seen people skip this first step a lot: they squirt soap on dry hands and smear it around. This makes step two pretty impossible and impedes the lifting of microbes away from the skin.

Lather. Add soap and rub to create bubbles on all surfaces of the hands: front and back, between the fingers, and fingernails. Foaming soap still needs to be evenly applied.

Scrub. I learned that THIS is the single step that requires the 20-second countdown. Friction is key to removing germs from the skin. Scrub all areas, front and back and between the fingers. Fingernails harbor a high concentration of microbes; rubbing the fingertips of one hand in the opposite palm is one good cleansing method.

Rinse. Clean, running water of any temperature will rinse away not only the bubbles but also the bad germs down the drain.

Dry. Using a clean towel here is very important. Air drying is also good, as long as we don’t rub our hands on our clothes in impatience. Then we would have to go back to square one . . .

According to the CDC, we should wash our hands before touching our faces or eating or preparing food, and after using the restroom, leaving a public place, blowing our noses, coughing, sneezing, handling our masks, caring for someone who is sick, changing a diaper, and touching pets.

To actively fight COVID-19 and other sickness, hand washing is the weapon of choice. Wearing a mask, keeping social distance, and staying home if sick all are all equally necessary right now, of course. But handwashing? Now, that’s doing something. Let’s make sure we are doing it right.

By Chrissie Kaufmann, YMCA of Greater Michiana
Monday, August 10, 2020 - 12:52pm