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Hand-washing: How to make sure it's effective

I thought I'd focus on starting a blog and bringing you some hopefully helpful and interesting information on well-being, aesthetics and, well, anything else that pops into my head.

So, where to start? Well, having had many infection control and hand-washing classes since my journey into nursing started back in 2006, I thought I'd pass on some tips that I've learnt in the hope that it might help to keep you and your families well.

So, why, when and how should we wash our hands?


Well, clearly we want to keep ourselves and our families healthy, but also we want to avoid spreading germs around the community. Hand washing has an interesting history, starting as something no-one did, to just something doctors did, to, in the early 20th century, something everyone did - and very stringently. But with with the introduction of better public health, antibiotics and vaccines, after the second world war people started being more lax about it. Nowadays, research published in 2009 in the American Journal of Infection Control states only 10% of men and 7% of women wash their hands before eating - a critical time for handwashing, and in 2015 a survey by Initial Washroom Hygiene of 100,000 people across Europe found that only 38% of men and 60% of women wash their hands after using the loo!

With no current cure for Covid-19 and a global pandemic upon us, we really can help to limit the spread of the disease with effective handwashing.

New published studies have shown the that the Covid-19 virus can last for up to:

  • 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces

  • 24-hours on cardboard and other natural fibres

  • 3 hours as droplet particles in the air

Covid-19 also sheds in faecal matter, so if people don't wash their hands after going to the loo they could contaminate anything they touch.

If we wash our hands often we'll avoid spreading germs when we touch things. It might sound simple, but not only are people lax about handwashing, according to research only 5% of people wash their hands correctly.


Well, a quick splash isn't going to do much good. You've got to rub, baby (friction is key to effective hand washing), and take your sweet time. 20 seconds actually. 20 seconds might seem like a long, dull amount of time when you're doing it, but you know what - this could be lifesaving, so take your time and sing away to yourself. However, did you know that, as well as taking your time, using the right technique is also really important.

Did you ever use those disclosing tablets at the dentist? You know the ones that turn your mouth pink and show where you've cleaned your teeth and where you've missed a bit? Well imagine you've got pink all over your hands and you've got to get it off. We have to rub the whole surface area of our hands, wrists and fingers with soap when we're handwashing.

Here's a picture from the NHS to show the seven steps of effective hand-washing:

Does it matter how hot the water is?

No - not really, although evidence suggests that if the water is warm we're more likely to spend longer washing our hands, rather than if it's too cold or too hot.

Should we scrub really hard?

No. We want to wash our hands effectively, but we don't want to cause any wounds, even microscopic, to our hands.

What about our nails?

Step 6 in the picture above shows how to rub your nails into the palm of your hand to clean them. Pay attention to your nails and cuticles when you wash your hands - remember the pink everywhere? You want to get soap in and under your nails.

Scrubbing the underside of your nails with a brush is really effective - just as brushing your teeth over just using mouthwash is more effective. The trouble with nail brushes is they can also breed bacteria. You could use a nailbrush - or an old toothbrush - and sterilise it daily in some diluted bleach or pop it in the dishwasher.

If you have long nails, you might want to think about keeping them shorter for the time-being. I know they're gorgeous, but there's a reason healthcare workers don't have long nails and it's not because they're hard to work with - it's because long fingernails harbour dirt and germs.

Don't forget to dry your hands.

Drying our hands well after we've washed them is an important step to effectively hand washing because germs love moisture.

  • Use a clean towel every day at home. Let's be practical; we're unlikely to change the hand towel in the bathroom at home more than once a day, but once a day would be great. Keep tea towels for drying dishes and hand towels separate.

  • Paper towels aren't great for the planet, but they are best for infection control.

  • Air dryers range from great to gross, but that's another story. What's important is that your hands are dry and we don't often have much of an option, especially when we're out and about.


Dry or flaking skin is harder to clean effectively and can harbour bacteria, so keep your hands moisturised and carefully snip off hangnails and rough cuticles. Snip don't chew - try to keep your hands away from your mouth.


Wash your hands often and at least:

  • If they're visibly dirty

  • After going to the loo

  • Before cooking and eating

  • Before and after touching your face

  • After blowing your nose

  • After coughing or sneezing

If your hands aren't visibly dirty, alcohol gel with at least 60% alcohol can be used in place of handwashing. All alcohol gels aren't created equal, so check the label to make sure what you're using is effective.

So, now we've got beautifully clean hands, what about those surface germs?

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily, including door handles and doors, toilets, sinks and taps, cupboard handles, kettles, fridge handles, etc... and your phone!


  • 62-71% alcohol

  • 0.5% hydrogen peroxide bleach

  • Household bleach with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite

Don't mix bleach with other cleaning products, e.g. toilet cleaner, as the chemical reaction can create a really harmful gas. See the link below for more information.

I hope this information helps to keep you, you family, and your community safe and well

Love, Gilly xx

Links and references:

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