The Importance of Hand Washing

If you think that hand washing is only for kids and health workers, think again. According to health experts, hand washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of diseases and infections. They say that a number of infectious diseases such as pinworms, common colds, hepatitis A, meningitis, salmonella, and influenza can be prevented from spreading simply by washing your hands.

The importance of handwashing cannot be overemphasized as history tells us how sanitation and handwashing saved thousands of lives because an Austrian-Hungarian physician by the name of Ignaz Semmelweis insisted that student physicians in the hospital that he worked washed their hands before touching maternity patients.

Doctors’ students had been working on corpses in an Anatomy class and then proceeded to perform their rounds in the maternity ward without washing their hands. This experiment proved successful when maternity deaths decreased fivefold. Yet it took 50 more years before hand washing would become the norm in the medical profession.

Hand Washing and Health

Why Should You Wash Your Hands?

1) Germs make people sick.

Germs gain access to the body as they are transferred from one person to another or from contact with contaminated surfaces. Once inside the body, the germs avoid the body’s immune system and start producing toxins that make you sick.

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are the most commonly known causes of food-borne diseases and food poisoning.

2) You can’t see germs but they are everywhere.

Germs such as bacteria and viruses are microscopic and not visible to the naked eye. But just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. As a matter of fact, some bacteria reside on your skin and some live inside of you.

You may not be aware but germs commonly reside on everyday objects such as cellphones, office desks, toothbrushes, etc., and they can be transferred to your hands when you touch them.

3) Washing your hands prevents the spread of germs.

Properly washing your hands eliminates the dirt and germs that can be spread to others. People, especially kids, don’t realize it but they frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth which give the germs access to the body and cause illnesses.

Washing your hands also helps prevent the spread of skin and eye infections. Simply washing your hands can help prevent the spread of bacteria such as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), Clostridium difficile, E. coli and Salmonella.

4) Washing your hands keeps you healthy.

The major benefit of frequent hand washing is that it keeps you healthy. It also helps keep your environment clean which prevents germs from spreading to others. Properly washing and drying your hands will reduce your risk of getting sick with diarrhea and getting a respiratory illness.

5) Washing your hands saves you a hospital stay.

The healthier you are, the less likely you will have to spend on expensive medical treatment at a hospital or emergency care clinic. Washing your hands with soap and water is definitely an inexpensive means of preserving your health and the health of those around you.

Handwashing and the Coronavirus

As the Coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, many health agencies are advising people to be extra vigilant about keeping their hands clean. Experts agree that handwashing is the most effective method in preventing the spread of preventable infectious diseases such as coronavirus.

In fact, an MIT study has found that boosting handwashing rates at airports around the world could slow a potential pandemic by 24% – 69%.

A Quick Primer on Hand Hygiene

When done right, hand hygiene can dramatically reduce the number of germs and bacteria on your hands. There are two main elements of hand hygiene:

A. Washing your hands after certain activities or interactions

B. Cleaning your hands effectively

When to Wash Your Hands

You should wash your hands properly:

  • before, during and after food preparation.
  • between handling raw and cooked food. (It is advisable to have separate chopping boards for raw and cooked or ready-to-eat foods.)
  • before and after eating or drinking.
  • after using the toilet and changing nappies.
  • after touching animals.
  • after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.
  • before and after attending to sick family members.
  • after handling rubbish or working in the garden.
  • upon getting home from work.

If you are a healthcare worker, you should apply the Five Moments for Hand Hygiene from the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care. The said guidelines define the key moments for hand hygiene to overcome misleading language and complicated descriptions as it presents a unified vision in overcoming the spread of Health Acquired Infections (HAI).

Furthermore, it is interwoven with the natural workflow of care and is designed not only to be easily learned but also logical and applicable in a wide range of settings.

The 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene

Five Moments for Hand Hygiene

The 5 moments for hand hygiene approach requires health workers to wash their hands:

  • before touching a patient.
  • after touching a patient.
  • before clean or aseptic procedures.
  • after body fluid exposure.
  • after touching the patient’s surroundings.

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

The handwashing technique may sound simple, but to be effective it must be done correctly. Below is an illustration image of the recommended hand washing techniques from the World Health Organization (WHO). The duration of the entire procedure is 40-60 seconds.

The importance of hand washing

The Use of Hand Sanitizers

While washing with soap and water is the recommended means to clean your hands, an alcohol-based sanitizer with 60-95% alcohol can be used when soap and water are not available. The use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers has increased in the health care field as well as the general public since 1995.

The use of hand sanitizers is convenient as you can transport small bottles into your pocket, purse, car or simply keep a small amount at your work station or desk and it takes you only about 15 seconds to clean your hands.


Hand washing should become second nature – and should do frequently because you never know when you’ve come into contact with germs. The practice of hand washing is no longer only a means of personal hygiene but an important measure of infection control. Frequent hand washing applying the proper techniques minimizes the incidence of transmitting infectious diseases.

Hand washing should not be optional but a rule to be strictly followed in order to protect your health and those around you. Stay healthy by practicing proper hand washing techniques; because health is wealth!

The video below illustrates the proper handwashing procedure applying the 12 steps.

Video Credits: World Health Organization (WHO)

12 thoughts on “The Importance of Hand Washing”

    1. Hey James,

      Indeed! I hope hand washing becomes a part of our daily lives; a habit that sticks even when a Covid vaccine would already be available.

      Thank you for dropping by.

  1. It’s quite easy to forget to wash your hands. When I was a little kid, I barely used to wash hands. I stayed outside all day and my hands were very dirty all the time. After some time I got some sort of sickness related to not washing my hands, I couldn’t remember what was it though.
    Since then, I’ve learnt my lesson and I always wash my hands quite a lot every day! It really is important.

    1. Hi Donny,

      Kids normally don’t want to wash their hands that’s why parents and teachers had to come up with ways to make hand washing fun in order to encourage kids to wash their hands after using the rest rooms, before eating and after playing.

      As they say, prevention is always better than cure. I’m glad you learned the importance of regularly washing your hands.

  2. When I was in culinary school my chef instructor had us wash our hands after showing us the proper way to wash them. We all thought we did spectacular jobs… until she pulled out the blue light! That was an eye opener for me. lol. I also make it a point to wash my hands after going to the gym. So many people use the machines and although the staff does what they can as far as cleaning the equipment, not everything gets wiped down consistently. I’ve actually caught most of my colds after going to the gym! Thanks for the tutorial!

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Hand washing is an important practice not only among healthcare workers but also among chefs because they will be handling the foods that are served to the customers. Hand sanitation is very important when preparing foods, otherwise, people might contract some bacteria that could cause food poisoning. Food handlers do not only compromise their health by not practicing proper hand washing but also the health of every single one who consumes the foods they prepare.

      We would want to wash our hands after using public facilities because we never know what other people might have touched before touching those equipments. I also always wash my hands after handling money, paper bills or coins, because I believe that money is one of the dirtiest and most contaminated things because they have been passed on from several people. I know that in the States, people seldom use cash but where I am right now, most people still use real money for almost every transaction.

  3. Alice,
    Some people do not realize the importance of washing their hands, or when to wash them. I think your article will help some that do not think that you should wash frequently during the day, even though your hands do not look dirty. I do wash several times a day with the alcohol based liquids, I do like to wash with a mild soap so that my hands do not dry out.
    I have a 12 year old that thinks that washing his hands is against all the rules. I have a hard time getting him to wash after using the restroom, do you have any ideas that will help in educating him on how washing his hands.
    Thanks for the information in this article.

    1. Hey John,

      You’re right, some people do not realize how important hand washing is, because most of the time they don’t visibly see how dirty their hands really are. Hand washing is a habit that needs to be developed as early as childhood because habits are more or less carried into adulthood. Alcohol based liquids are great alternatives to soap and water but should not be an excuse to wash with soap and water especially when our hands are visibly soiled.

      With regards to your 12 year old who refuses to wash his hands after using the rest room, you can tell him to wash his hands, otherwise he cannot touch anything else in the house especially the kitchen. Parents with younger kids convince them to wash their hands by making hand washing fun. I don’t know if this will work with your sons. But I hope this helps.

  4. Admittedly, hand washing is something most of us neglect. We have been taught since childhood the importance of hand hygiene but as we grew older, we tend to “not” forget but rather neglect it, primarily because we are now living in a fast-paced world wherein everybody seems to be always in a hurry. We find it difficult anymore to give time to the more important things such as our health.

    I myself am guilty of not washing my hands properly especially before eating as I often eat when driving to work or even while working on my website. So thank you so much for the great reminder. Practicing proper hand washing techniques is really crucial to our over all health.

    1. Hello Fred,

      I used to neglect the practice of proper hand washing too. I never bothered to wash my hands before eating or drinking anything, or if I did, it was some kind of a “quick” wash. The importance of hand washing really just sank in when I started working in a medical facility where I am exposed to possible infections and cross-contamination.

      Here, I got into the habit of regularly washing my hands because I handle blood and other body fluids as part of the job assignment. It’s important to properly wash our hands no matter how very busy we are. Being super busy is never an excuse to neglect the habit of proper hand hygiene because we are putting not only our health in jeopardy but also of those people around us.

      And did you know that there are more germs in our work desk than there are in the toilet? How scary is that!

  5. Good advice, I know I am always hounding my kids to wash their hands more often. As a health care employee, I am using hand sanitizer before and after each patient, but I always feel better if I wash my hands with soap and hot water before meals. I agree that most of us are not washing our hands long enough either. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Hi Will,

      It’s really important to teach our kids while they’re young the importance of frequently washing their hands. If parents succeed in developing in their kids the habit of hand washing at home, they will feel secure that their kids will maintain this practice at school even when they can’t be there to remind them about it.

      Hand sanitizers work fine in cases where you do not have access to running water and soap but washing your hands with the latter is the recommended practice. Not to mention that there are hand sanitizers and alco-gels that leave your hands sticky.

      Proper hand washing does not only mean wetting your hands with water or making some small lathers and rinsing as quickly as possible. We need to apply the proper hand washing techniques to ensure that our hands are completely free from any germs that can make us sick.

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