Chester River Hospital Center
Health Fax Articles


Hand Washing Stops the Spread of Germs


Donna Saunders, RN

Many people consider washing hands to remove dirt and germs to be a matter of common sense. But in fact, hand washing is more than simple common sense. Hand washing is the single most important procedure for preventing the spread of infection. Germs can cause you to get sick. They get on the hands when objects and other people are touched. Once germs are on the hands, they can get inside the body through a wound or when the eyes, nose or mouth are touched. Germs can also be spread from the hands to objects or other people. The best way to stop the spread of germs is to wash your hands and wash them often. Wash your hands when they are dirty and at the following times:

  • Before eating
  • Before preparing food
  • After touching raw meat like chicken or steak
  • After using the restroom/changing a baby’s diaper
  • Before and after caring for a sick person
  • After touching animals, including dogs and cats

The choice of plain or antimicrobial soap should depend on whether it is important to reduce and maintain minimal counts of colonizing flora (those germs that are considered permanent residents of the skin and are not readily removed by mechanical friction). For general purposes and everyday use, a plain non-antimicrobial soap is recommended in any convenient form: bar, liquid or powder. Antimicrobial soaps are considered drugs because they are intended to kill or inhibit germs on the skin. Hand washing with an antimicrobial soap or detergent is recommended in certain situations generally related to healthcare. The absolute indications for hand washing with plain soap versus hand washing with antimicrobial containing products are not known because of the lack of well controlled studies comparing infection rates when such products are used.

How to wash your hands:

  • Wet hands with warm running water. 
  • Apply hand-washing soap to hands and rub hands together for 10-15 seconds, being sure to wash between the fingers and under the fingernails (try singing two verses of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to make sure that you are washing long enough).
  • Rinse hands with warm water; then dry using paper towel.
  • Use the paper towel to turn off the water to avoid re-contaminating the hands.

Sometimes water is not available to wash the hands. Waterless alcohol rinses and gels do not require water or hand drying. These instant hand sanitizers kill some bacteria but do not remove dirt from the hands. If possible, remove the dirt first with a wipe or towelette; then apply the waterless alcohol based rinse. Waterless alcohol rinses can help to control the spread of germs between hand washings but do not eliminate the need for proper hand washing with soap and water. Hand washing is the best line of defense against germs that are spread by touching. Wash your hands often and wash them the correct way to help prevent infections in yourself and in the people around you.

Donna Saunders, RN, is the infection control/employee health coordinator at Kent & Queen Anne’s Hospital. She is certified in infection control and is a graduate of the Milford School of Nursing in Milford, Delaware.