Research from the USDA found 99% of us don't wash our hands properly. Here's where you're missing the mark.

Lauren Wicks
March 05, 2020
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Practicing proper hygiene is always important, but washing your hands correctly to prevent coronavirus is more important than ever. Amira Albert Roess, Ph.D., M.P.H, an infectious disease specialist, previously told us that washing your hands is actually one of the best methods of prevention, as our touching our eyes, noses or mouths is the most common way for illness to be introduced to our bodies.

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But washing your hands isn't as simple as a quick sudsing with soap and water—and most of us are doing it wrong. A 2018 study from the USDA found nearly 100% of us don't wash our hands correctly—24% of participants didn't even use soap! Here's where you're likely missing the mark:

You're Not Washing Your Hands Long Enough

This is not the time for half-hearted attempts at handwashing. This was the most common faux pas found in the USDA study. The CDC says we should be washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—and not just after using the restroom. You should also be practicing proper hand-washing hygiene before preparing or eating a meal and after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose. The rule of thumb is to sing "Happy Birthday" in your head twice while washing.

If you're not convinced, just check out this graphic Kristen Bell shared on Instagram earlier this week. You just might want to start washing your hands for even longer.

You're Not Scrubbing Your Fingers

Our fingers are the number-one culprit when it comes to introducing viruses or bacteria into our body. You should avoid rubbing your eyes, touching your mouth or face and scratching your nose—even if you're the best hand-washer out there.

While washing your hands for at least 20 seconds may get a little tedious, spend some of that scrubbing your fingertips or rubbing them into the palms of your hands with soap to make sure they get squeaky clean.

You're Not Drying Your Hands Well Enough

While you may have scrubbed your heart out for 30 seconds, you still have to properly dry those hands to prevent bacteria from accumulating. Bacteria can still remain on wet hands and these bacteria are more easily spread on wet hands than dry hands, according to the Water Quality & Health Council.

And as much as we would love for air dryers to be the best option—paper and cloth towels are still your best bet. Using an electric dryer can actually bring bacteria that live under your skin to the surface. Just be sure to use a clean cloth towel if you have one available—and wash them regularly.

You Think Hand Sanitizer Is Just as Effective as Soap and Water

Hand sanitizer is not as effective as washing your hands with soap and water, contrary to what the label says. The FDA actually sent a warning letter to the makers of Purell earlier this year, saying there is no evidence that hand sanitizer prevents the flu—or any other illness for that matter.

Hand sanitizer with 60% or higher alcohol content is an acceptable option if you don't have access to a sink with soap and water, but it shouldn't be considered the gold standard. It's still worth keeping a bottle at your desk or in your purse, but not as a replacement for handwashing.