Cincinnati Children's Blog

Hand Washing: What’s the Proper Technique?

Hand Washing: What’s the Proper Technique?

Today is Global Hand Washing Day. As the name suggests, it’s a world-wide campaign to raise awareness about the importance of washing hands with soap.   Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? But according to a study done by Michigan State University and published in the Journal of Environmental Health, only 5% of 3,700 people they covertly observed actually washed their hands properly.

Chances are, if that many people in the study did it wrong, others are doing it improperly too. So what is the proper technique?

Think 20.  Kids and parents need to wash their hands for 20 seconds in order to be the most effective at combating germs. This is especially important because 80% of all infectious diseases, such as pneumonia, salmonella, cold and flu, and skin infections, are transferred by human contact. Every time we touch a surface – desks, books, door knobs, sink handles, other people’s hands – germs get on our skin. Then they eventually work their way into our bodies. So as parents, we understand why lengthy lathering is so important. But for kids, 20 seconds can seem like an eternity. How can we get our kids to suds-up for that long?

Better yet, sing for 20. As with anything related to kids, they’re more likely to do something they don’t want to do if you make it fun.  Encourage your kids to wash their hands while they sing songs that are at least 20 seconds long.  Songs like “Happy Birthday (twice),” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “ABCs,” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” can make it fun while extending their washing time.

Play follow the leader. Set a good example for your kids by establishing a good hand washing routine at home, and model the proper technique for them. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following steps:

  • Wet hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of  hands, between fingers, and under nails.
  • Continue rubbing hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Show them “why.” Young minds are notorious for asking “why?” over and over again.  You can help them understand why hand washing is so important by planning some activities:

Activity: Germs, germs, everywhere, from

  • Invite your kids to draw pictures of germs on small paper, or print stickers from
  • Have your kids stick the germs on everything they touch for a specific period of time
  • Encourage your kids to observe how many germs there are and where they are in the room or house

Activity: Glitter germs and the importance of soap, from the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line:

  • Invite your kids to put a small amount of glitter on their hands, to represent germs
  • Have one child wash his hands with soap, and one without soap
  • Encourage your kids observe how soap gets rid of the glitter germs better than water alone

According to the CDC, nearly 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common flu alone. With the cold and flu season right around the corner, now is the perfect time to reinforce proper hand-washing techniques with your family, in addition to receiving the yearly flu vaccine.

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