August 26, 2020

Healthy habits: Hand hygiene hacks

Simple best practices for washing and sanitizing your hands can help you stay healthy and avoid spreading germs to others.

Proper hand hygiene helps prevent the spread of COVID-19, seasonal flu, and other infections.

Healthy hand hygiene, including washing or sanitizing your hands frequently and correctly, is one of the simplest ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. But for many of us, it can be hard to create and sustain new habits —and it’s tempting for even the most dedicated to take shortcuts.

We caught up with Kaiser Permanente nursing leader Peggi Winter, DNP, RN, for a quick refresher on the steps to take to make hand hygiene as effective as possible.

“COVID-19 has everyone thinking about cleanliness,” said Winter. “A few quick tips will go far in protecting yourself and your family from not just coronavirus but all the other germs we spread back and forth heading into winter cold and flu seasons.”

Hand-washing versus hand sanitizer

Washing your hands with soap and water is generally preferable to using hand sanitizer for several reasons, but especially because hand-washing is more effective at removing certain kinds of germs. And hand-washing is a necessity when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

When soap and water aren’t available, correctly using an alcohol-based sanitizer can help you stop the spread of germs. To make sure hand sanitizer is readily available, consider keeping a container in your car, purse, or bag, or in your child’s backpack.

Hand-washing hints

  • Wrist to fingertips: Wash hands with soap and lukewarm water for at least 20 seconds or as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Be sure to pay attention to frequently forgotten spots such as wrists, around your nails, and the space between your thumb and index finger.
  • Nail it: Winter recommends keeping natural nails short (not extending past tips of fingers) and using a nail brush to scrub under nails. Artificial nails and nail tips can provide a safe harbor for germs.
  • Lotion up: Hand lotion can prevent skin damage and dryness from frequent hand-washing. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a fragrance-free and dye-free hand cream or ointment that contains mineral oil or petrolatum.

Hand sanitizer hacks

  • Check the label: Not all hand sanitizers are equally effective. Choose one that contains at least 60% alcohol (look for at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol).
  • Stay safe: Do not use sanitizers containing methanol or swallow any hand sanitizer. Visit the Food and Drug Administration website for a list of hand sanitizers you should not use.
  • Take your time: Apply hand sanitizer to one palm (read the label to learn the correct amount). Then, cover the surfaces of both hands by rubbing them vigorously together until dry.

Download this hand hygiene infographic.

Learn more about protecting yourself from COVID-19.