Hand washing is everywhere right now, as it is one of the top ways to prevent spreading and getting COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has had some other developments besides the viral disease. Anxiety for instance is elevated for many of us as the unknown lays ahead and our only actions of control are hand washing, staying away from others (social distancing) and for some, wearing a homemade cloth mask. Giving ourselves control over different aspects of our situation can help with anxiety and mental health but it only helps with our medical health if our actions are performed properly. Here, I provide you with a helpful experiment to see if you can improve your hand washing technique or if you are acing it every time.

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Hand washing properly is not a new trend in health care and is one of the top ways to prevent getting sick, period. It is useful for non-pandemic times as well to keep ourselves and others healthy. WHO, CDC, PHAC and other government organizations have been busy promoting hand hygiene. As a result, many of us know that we should be washing our hands many times a day with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. If you do not have access to running water, use hand sanitizer.

20 seconds can seem like a long time to stand there scrubbing your hands. It is important to try your best to meet that time target to ensure proper coverage of your hands. If you have trouble enjoying those 20 seconds of hand washing check out https://washyourlyrics.com/.  They have made it possible for you to create your own personal hand washing poster, complete with lyrics and instructions.

Hand washing is not new, and it’s not going away even after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recommends that hand washing happens:

  • When hands are visibly dirty
  • Before preparing and immediately after handling food
  • Before eating
  • After using the toilet
  • After contact with contaminated surfaces (e.g., garbage bins, cleaning cloths)
  • After handling pets and domestic animals
  • After wiping or blowing one’s nose, handling soiled tissues, or sneezing into one’s hands
  • After contact with blood or body fluids (e.g., vomit, saliva)
  • Before and after dressing wounds
  • Before and after giving care or visiting someone who is ill or who is less able to fight off infections (e.g., someone with diabetes or cancer)
  • Before preparing and taking medication
  • Before inserting and removing contact lenses

Technique is just as important as the length of time and frequency for clean hands. But how do you know if your technique is washing away all the germs on your hands? 

There are loads of videos on the internet showing the effects of proper hand washing techniques. While I love a good demonstration, I feel like this challenge deserves a more hands-on approach *pun intended*. 

As a dietitian I have had to learn how to perfect my own hand washing technique. Hand hygiene is very important when interacting with patients at hospitals or residents at long term care facilities or simply providing education on food safety. During my time in university, I helped lead a program called Kids in the Kitchen. In this program we teach the kids about cooking, nutrition and food safety, including hand hygiene. One of the exercises, was incredibly valuable in teaching kids just how effective hand washing can be. 

Clean Hands Experiment

A fun experiment to do with kids or just for yourself to know how your hand washing technique holds up. 

First you need to collect some oil, doesn’t matter what kind, and a ground spice that will be visible on your skin. This could be ground cinnamon, ground pepper, ground ginger, garlic powder, etc.  whichever will be noticeable, and you currently have in your house.

experiment materials

After collecting your materials coat your hands in the oil and generously cover your hands in the ground spices. The ground spice represents germs.

cinnamon hands

Ewwww!

Go ahead and wash your hands with soap and water. Try to pay extra attention and do all the recommended moves during at least 20 seconds of hand washing.  This includes scrubbing your palms, back of each hand, between your fingers, the thumbs, under your nails, and wrists. 

Rinse off the soap with running water and dry them with a clean towel or paper towel. After they are dry, inspect your hands. Notice if there are any areas with a lot of spices still on your hand. Some of the most missed places are the tips of your fingers, the nail bed, under your nail, the thumb, and between your fingers. It’s also kind of fun to look at the soap dispenser, tap and towel to see if any spices were transferred to them.

Try to focus on any of your missed areas or transferred locations when washing your hands outside of this experiment. Brainstorm ways to help you or your kids really nail the art of hand washing and make it fun. Let me know below what ideas you came up with.

Remember that you need frequency, duration (20 seconds minimum) and technique for hand washing to be effective. If you do not have access to running water, use hand sanitizer but follow the same steps to reach all the nooks and crannies of your hands.

Stay safe, be careful and be kind,
Lindsay