Hand Washing: An Easy Way to Avoid Getting Sick

Cold season is just around the corner, are you prepared? Do you have your cough and cold remedies, cough drops, facial tissue, etc.? These are commonly thought of as the goto's, while a more common and effective treatment simply stopping the spread of germs by proper hand washing.

proper hand washing

Proper Hand Washing Technique:

  1. If possible remove jewelry;
  2. Cup hands together under warm water;
  3. Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds with soap (antibacterial or traditional hand soap);
  4. Make sure to wash thoroughly, including wrists, palms, back of hands, and in between the fingers;
  5. Rinse soap from your hands;
  6. Dry your hands completely with a clean towel.


"According to the CDC, the simple act of handwashing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of viral and bacterial infections." Long before the CDC made this statement, Ignaz Semmelweis postulated that by washing hands before delivering a baby, the incidence of childbed fever (septaceamia fever) reduced significantly. Semmelweis, a 19th century hungarian physician, believed that aseptic techniques could help prevent the spread of sickness, and he was right. Louis Pasteur released his germ theory of disease which was influenced from Semmelweis.

Amazingly 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. Many Americans use a public restroom and do not wash their hands before leaving. They forget to wash before preparing meals and they forget before having a snack. A simple hand shake transmits germs to others, and the spread of infectious disease(s) occurs.

What can we do to prevent the spread of infectious disease such as colds? Well, we can all start off by washing our hands in warm soapy water. A traditional hand soap is fine. Through the friction of rubbing your hands together in warm soapy water, you will greatly decrease the number of bacteria, thus greatly reducing your chances of infection.

In addition to traditional handwashing, the CDC recommends the use of alcohol-based hand rubs. These rubs greatly decrease the number of microbes on our skin and do so in a rapid manner causing less skin irritation from rubbing. Though they smell and may cause dryness, hand sanitizers are a great way for us to combat microbes and the spread of infectious disease.

Remember, we all have bacteria resident on our skin. These bacteria, for the most part, are unharmful to us. The ones we should be concerned about, transient bacteria, reside above the layer of oil our body secretes, and these can raise our chances of contracting illness as they can be transferred with ease. The easiest and best sense way to remove transient bacteria is to wash your hands.


Jeremy KW Spiewak, CPhT, MA RPhT, BA Chemistry, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

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Cold Prevention Hand Washing. WebMD [online]. 2009. Available through WebMD, LLC. Accessed October 6, 2011

Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings: Recommendations of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee and the HICPAC/SHEA/APIC/IDSA Hand Hygiene Task Force. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR 2002;51(No. RR-16) pps 27-33.

WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care. World Health Organization, 2009;pps 124-125.

Efficacy and Safety of Antibacterial Soaps for Home Use. Detail Document n211205. Pharmacist’s Letter v 21. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Company, 2005.

Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings and the Community. Detail Document n241217. Pharmacist’s Letter v 24. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Company, 2008.

Additional Resources:

Hand Hygiene Guidelines Fact Sheet (CDC)

Clean Hands Save Lives (pdf from CDC)

Original Published:October 2011

Revised:October 2011