Want you and your kids to stay healthy? Wash your hands. Why? Because there are between two and 10 million bacteria lurking between fingertips and elbows, while the number of germs on fingertips doubles after using the toilet. And if that’s not enough of a motivation, did you know that germs can stay alive on our hands for up to three hours?
The simple act of handwashing reduces the risk of getting a stomach bug by up to 47% and frequent handwashing with soap and water can reduce the number of illnesses and infections in children under five by at least 50%, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
Global Handwashing Day is on Tuesday, 15 October, and it’s a good reminder to wash our hands frequently, but more importantly, wash them well (running your hands under tap water for a few seconds isn’t enough).
Here are some tips on when and how to wash, and some tricks to get kids motivated to wash.
When to wash your hands
- After coughing or sneezing
- Before and eating a meal or snack
- After playing with a pet or being outside
- After coming home from the shops, school, office, etc.
- After using the bathroom or after a nappy change
- As your toddler continues to grow, teach proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, as well, such as sneezing into an elbow, covering a cough with a tissue and always washing their hands afterwards.
“Kids learn by example, so why not be a role model? Make handwashing a family affair after going to the park and playing with pets.”
How to wash your hands
According to the CDC, these are the five handwashing steps to follow each time:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold); turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
When there’s no soap and water around
If soap and water aren’t available, you can use a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol. Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.
Sanitisers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations. However, sanitisers do not get rid of all types of germs and may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. They also might not remove harmful chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals from hands.
Instil the handwashing habit in your kids
- Get sneaky. If your little one isn’t a fan of soap and water, improvise. Try soaping up a warm washcloth and giving them high fives after playtime or slipping on “invisible” gloves made out of hand sanitiser.
- Encourage good behaviour. Acknowledge your tot’s handwashing by giving them something small and fun, like a sticker on the calendar.
- It’s all about routine. If your toddler is learning to use the toilet, remind them to wash their hands after using the bathroom and after getting home from daycare.
- Make it kid-friendly. Add a brightly coloured step stool or a hand towel with your child’s favourite character to make handwashing a fun experience. Try singing a fun song, like the ABCs or “Happy Birthday” while washing up.
- Show off your own washing skills. Kids learn by example, so why not be a role model? Make handwashing a family affair after going to the park and playing with pets.
- Talk about it. Explain to your child why handwashing is necessary.