3 hand-washing myths, busted!

Posted on 26 May 2015

In an international study of 18 countries, including South Africa, the Global Hygiene Council found that adults are not washing their hands adequately. But the World Health Organization (WHO) believes so strongly in the health benefits of hand-washing, they see it as a potential lifesaver. Think you know all about when and how to wash your hands? Read on…

MYTH 1: Washing your hands is one of those things we are told to do as kids. Now that I’m a grown up with a strong immune system, I think of it as an old wives’ tale. It’s not really that important…
Washing your hands remains vital, whatever your age. Many illnesses are caused through a lack of basic hygiene practices. Did you know, for instance, that most food poisonings are caused by bacteria? These can easily be spread through contact, or the handling of food with unclean hands.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserts that hand washing is a smart preventative measure against the spread of contagious diseases. Apart from colds and gastro, other potentially more serious conditions, such as Hepatitus A, can be transmitted when a contaminated person handles food consumed by others without having cleaned their hands properly. Consider this:
• Hand washing reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 21%
• It also reduces the number of people who get ill from diarrhea by 31%
With germs resting on everything from cellphones to TV remotes, children’s highchairs, kitchen counters and cloths, and public transport, wouldn’t you rather be safe, than sorry?

MYTH 2: For hand washing to be effective, you must have access to hot water.
Not so. Whether you wash your hands with hot or cold water is not the issue, it’s how you do it. Water temperature has not been shown to significantly impact removal of microbes (in the range of 4–49°C). In other words, if water is too cold or too hot, it may mean you take a short cut on the rinsing time, which you shouldn’t. Here are the five steps to proper hand-washing:
1. Wet your hands;
2. Lather with soap (clean the backs of your hands, under your nails where there’s a higher concentration of collected microbes, and up to your wrists);
3. Scrub (for a minimum of 20 seconds);
4. Rinse (under clean water);
5. Dry (using a clean towel or by air-drying).

MYTH 3: It’s not that important to dry my hands after washing them. As long as I have washed them, I can continue to prepare food etc even though they are wet.
This is not so! Germs are more easily transferred via wet hands, as pathogens thrive in moist conditions. Hand drying is vital to prevent bacterial transfer to skin, food and surfaces. Use a clean dry cloth or, if air-drying under a machine, dry for 30–45 seconds.


The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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