Can Hand Washing Save Lives?


Did you know very few people around the world use soap when washing their hands? According to a 2014 study, the estimated global rates of handwashing after using the toilet are only 19 percent.

We know what you’re thinking — “Gross!” And if you’re still not in absolute disgust, research from the University of Colorado Boulder confirms that our hands carry an average of 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species.

How Do Germs Spread?

Germs can reach our hands and enter our bodies in many ways, including:

  • When touching dirty objects, including toys, doorknobs, and floors
  • Eating and drinking with unwashed hands
  • Having close contact with a sick person
  • Through droplets in the air containing infectious agents

When children come into contact with germs, these disease-causing microorganisms can enter their system just by touching the eyes, nose, or mouth. The same problem arises in adults with reduced immune function. Once a child or adult is infected, it is only a matter of time before the whole family comes down with the same illness.

What Is the Proper Way to Wash Hands?

It is always a good idea to wash your hands with your kids. Your guidance can help them understand the importance of this healthy habit.

Here is a quick guide on how to scrub microscopic germs away:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water.
  2. Apply a trusted brand of antibacterial soap and lather up for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Rub and massage your hands together.
  4. Get in between your fingers, the wrists, on the backs of hands, and under the nails.
  5. Rinse thoroughly and dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.

When Is the Best Time to Wash Hands?

Regular hand washing should be a rule for everyone in your household. It is especially important:

  • After going to the bathroom
  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after cooking, especially when handling raw produce
  • After cleaning the house
  • After an arts and crafts session
  • After outdoor activities, such as gardening and sports
  • Before and after visiting or caring for someone sick
  • After coughing, sneezing, rubbing the eye, or blowing one’s nose
  • After playing with animals, including family pets

Further, access to clean water and soap in other locations, such as schools, offices, and public restrooms can help reduce the rate of many diseases.

Are Children Dying from Low Hand Hygiene?

Another reason to bring awareness to the simple act of handwashing is that about 1.8 million boys and girls under 5 years old die from pneumonia and diarrheal diseases each year.

Research suggests that proper handwashing could protect about 1 out of every 3 children who get sick with diarrhea, as well as almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia. Handwashing also prevents illnesses in adults and limits the spread of infection to others.


Never underestimate the power of hand washing! Provide each bathroom with accessible hand soaps and give each family member their personal towel for drying. Think of it this way: the few minutes you spend at the sink could save you and your child an expensive trip to the doctor’s office.