How do you wash your hands? Grab some soap, lather up for about twenty seconds, and then rinse. Right?
Wrong, according to new research.
There are two officially recognized methods of hand washing. One championed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and another supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland say the WHO’s six-step hand-washing technique is most effective, reducing bacteria by 21%, compared to just 6% with the three-step method backed by the CDC.
Here’s the CDC method:
Step One: Apply the soap or sanitizer to one palm.
Step Two: Rub both palms together.
Step Three: Rub product over your hands thoroughly.
Sound familiar? Any parent with small children is well versed on explaining this process. So what’s wrong with the CDC method?
Scientists in Scotland watched 42 doctors and 78 nurses wash their hands with an alcohol-based rub, using the three-step CDC method or the six-step WHO method. The results were clear. Those who used the three-step technique saw the average bacterial count on their hands fall from 3.08 colony-forming units per milliliter to 2.88, compared to 3.28 to 2.58 for those who used the six-step method.
Want to give the WHO method a try the next time you’re at the sink? Better block out the time on your calendar. Here’s the process:
Step One: Rub palms together.
Step Two: Rub each palm front to back over the back of the other hand, interlacing fingers.
Step Three: Twist palms with fingers interlaced, and rub between fingers.
Step Four: Interlock your fingers, (thumbs should be on opposite sides), and twist again, this time, backs of fingers against palms.
Step Five: Clasp your left thumb in your right hand and move thumb in circular motion — then switch thumbs.
Step Six: (Still reading?) Press your right fingers together and rub them in a circular motion on your left palm, then switch. Done!
Okay, so admittedly, the WHO method is a bit confusing. You really have to be a visual thinker to follow the written steps. During the study, scientists had doctors try the six-step method while be watched and coached on their technique. The results? Only 65% of participants completed the entire hand hygiene process. And it takes longer to complete. The CDC method takes about 35 seconds on average to complete, while the WHO method takes 42.5 seconds.
Where does that leave us? Maybe you are persuaded but reluctant to memorize all those new steps. You’re not alone. Not everyone will be rushing to YouTube to find a video on the WHO method so they can relearn hand washing.
That’s OK. It’s mostly healthcare providers who need to master the art of the hand wash. The Scottish scientists hope their findings will prompt a push for better hand hygiene on the frontlines of healthcare.
Good to know. We want our toddler’s hands to be clean, but we need our doctor’s hands to be spotless.