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How to Beat the Cold and Flu

Why is Washing Your Hands Important?
How to Beat the Cold and Flu

washing hands

Washing your hands may sound like a basic task, but it plays a vital role in stopping the spread of germs.

Germs are found everywhere, which makes them easy to get onto your hands. While you may not get infected by simply having germs on your hands, they can enter the body when you touch your eyes, nose and mouth, resulting in illness. In addition, when germs are on your hands, you easily can spread them to other people by touching objects such as handrails and tables.

Washing your hands will not completely prevent you from becoming ill, but by washing your hands regularly, you can prevent a significant amount of diarrhea-related illness and respiratory infections.

A study was implemented at a military recruit training center called Operation Stop Cough that was designed to see if frequent hand washing reduces illness. In this study, the recruits had to wash their hands a minimum of five times a day. The researchers concluded that after two years, those who washed their hands at least five times a day reported 45% few instances of respiratory illness.


How to Wash Your Hands

Be sure to use soap and water instead of only water for washing your hands. When you use soap, surfactants help lift soil and microbes from your skin, which then are washed off with water.

Recent studies have shown that no type of soap, specifically antibacterial soap, has been proven to be more effective than plain soap. However, this is only relevant when considering soap and excludes products such as hand sanitizer and wipes.

To wash your hands, make sure to scrub your hands with soap for 20 seconds. To gauge how long this is, sing the Happy Birthday song twice as you scrub. If you are working with higher risk populations or your job brings you into contact with more germs, health experts recommend you wash your hands for closer to 30 seconds.

While washing, make sure to cover all areas of your hand. Some of the most frequently missed areas are in between your fingers, the back of your hands, specifically the back of your thumb, and underneath your fingernails.


Is Hand Sanitizer Effective?

Hand sanitizer can be helpful when you are unable to wash your hands, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using soap and water whenever available. If you do need to use hand sanitizer, make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol for it to be effective in reducing the spread of germs and preventing you from getting sick.

Hand sanitizers can help inactivate certain microbes, but many people use hand sanitizer incorrectly, which renders it ineffective. Many people do not apply enough hand sanitizer. Each application should be about the size of a dime or the amount indicated on the label directions. In addition, be sure not to wipe off the sanitizer before it has dried.

Hand sanitizers have many benefits in clinical settings such as hospitals where hands are relatively clean. When hands are heavily soiled or greasy, hand sanitizers are not nearly as effective. When hands are covered in dirt or sweat, washing your hands with soap and water is best.

Stay healthy and be sure to wash your hands!


Abigail Glaser,
Program Assistant, NDSU Extension



DerSarkissian, C. (Nov. 25, 2018). How To Properly Wash Your Hands To Prevent From Getting a Cold. WebMD.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (March 3, 2020). Show Me the Science – When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings.

Minnesota Department of Health. (Nov. 25, 2019). How It Works: Cleaning Hands with Hand Sanitizer - Minnesota Department of Health.

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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