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Because soap doesn't kill germs, water temperature matters, plus jewelry and nails pitfalls to watch out for
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Best Way to Wash Hands_via CBC wash hands like a surgeon

The best way to wash your hands isn't a topic I ever thought I'd need to cover here, but given the current virus climate, and because a gazillion flu seasons have taught us almost nothing, the subject is clearly 100% topical. And most of us are doing it wrong. I'm just as guilty; for starters, my average hand-washing session is about four seconds.

Thanks to the CBC, we can drastically improve our hand-washing skills with four minutes and 15 seconds of video education (and a text recap).

According to Dr. Samantha Hill, a Toronto-based cardiac surgeon and president-elect of the Ontario Medical Association, "washing your hands is the first line of defence" when it comes to minimizing the likelihood of contracting any virus, whether a cold, the flu, or COVID-19.

best way to wash your hands

The best way to wash your hands is as follows:

  1. "The optimum time for hand washing is at least 20 seconds," says Dr. Hill.
  2. Use warm water, not cold, so the grubby oils on the skin's surface liquefy easily.
  3. Wet hands and apply enough soap to cover the surface of both hands.
  4. Smooth soap thoroughly between palms and fingers, and rub hands together either in a circular or back-and-forth motion.
  5. Interlace your fingers to make sure you clean between them.
  6. Turn hands over and use one to rub soap gently over the back of the other and down to tips of fingers and in between, and soap thumb and skin between thumb and index finger. Repeat on the back of the other hand and fingers and thumb.
  7. Now concentrate on fingers, smoothing soap over each individual digit.
  8. Pay special attention to nails – scrub them over soapy palms to get cleanser under them; lots of bacteria squats under there.
  9. Rinse hands off thoroughly, and before you turn off the water, dry skin with clean paper towel then use the paper towel to turn the tap handles to off. (Surgeons use paper towel, but if you're using a hand towel, you don't want to contaminate it with the dirt you put on the tap handles when you turned the water on. Maybe use your elbows? Or soap up the handles and rinse them before turning taps off?)
  10. Apply your favourite hand cream. (Just make sure you haven't already touched the tube or pump dispenser with dirty hands.)

Most of these instructions appear in the CBC-produced video at the end of this post.

Best way to wash hands screengrab from CBC's Wash Hands Like a Surgeon

Best way to wash hands screengrab from CBC's Wash Hands Like a Surgeon

soap doesn't kill germs

According to Dr. Hill, "soap doesn't actually kill germs. What soap does is create little bubbles that carry with it oil and grease and other things, and bacteria in the viruses get trapped in those bubbles. So the friction allows you to pick up more of the dirt on your hands and when you rinse, the dirt and germs rinse off with the water."

In terms of water temperature, Dr. Hill says "slightly warmer water is better than colder water because the oils in the environment liquefy at warmer temperatures, so the soap works more effectively."

the jewelry pitfall

"When you're washing your hands with soap and water particularly if you have reasonably tight-fitting jewelry, the soap and the water aren't going to get in there, and friction from your hands isn't going to affect it," says Dr. Hill. "Jewelry actually lodges against your skin, and is a great place for bacteria and other germs, viruses to climb between the jewelry and the skin... So you're creating a little pool where the bacteria, the viruses can happily replicate."

the long nails pitfall

Bacteria is also fond of squatting under nails. "With long nails the key is to try to get underneath the nail to get out all the dirt," Hill says.

As noted earlier, most of the above best-way-to-wash-hands points are recapped from the following How to Wash Your Hands like a Surgeon video produced by the CBC. Please don't get distracted by the fact that the water stays running throughout the hand-washing process. Obviously, you can turn off your taps while you lather. Just do what you have to to minimize re-contaminating your hands.

How does your hand-washing routine measure up against the process in this video? (And yeah, despite the CBC's title, these hand-washing instructions aren't exactly what a surgeon would do before surgery. But maybe they meant it's how a surgeon washes her hands when she's not working?)