Keeping It Clean: How to Properly Wash Your Hands

Scott® Brand


5 minutes



Thank you, Ignaz Semmelweis for keeping it clean.


Some call the 19th century Hungarian doctor the Father of Handwashing (well, not many do, but certainly those in the know). That’s because, before his observational research in the 1840s revealed that doctors with dirty hands were a cause for the high death rate among mothers who had just given birth, people were unaware that hand cleanliness could protect us from germs and disease.


As a result, people have been encouraged to wash their hands regularly ever since – a common practice that took on heightened importance during the early months of the COVID-19 crisis. Ignaz was a fan of disinfecting hands with a chlorinated lime solution, although that may be a bit extreme for everyday circumstances. But if you think a quick rinse and a brisk air-shake is all you need to keep germs away, think again.


The truth is many of us are insufficient hand-washers. While a 2021 survey found that 63% of Americans follow guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and wash for about 21 seconds each time, plenty of folks – 17%, to be exact – say they only spend five to 10 seconds washing up.


And while the same survey revealed that 86% of Americans wash their hands after using a public restroom, that means 14% aren’t doing so. Eww! Why isn’t it 100%?


Anyway, it’s a medical fact that vigorous hand washing – with soap and water – is the best way to reduce the spread of germs and other microorganisms that can cause disease and illness, including COVID-19. So, we need to do it right.

A boy and girls washing their hands under sinks

The 5 Must-Do Hand Washing Steps (and Drying, Too)

Hand washing is a pretty simple process. But we’re often in a hurry and miss out on – or hasten through – key steps. Take your time; do it right. Here’s how:

  • Step 1 – Get ‘em wet. Run your hands under clean, running water; it can be hot or cold.
  • Step 2 – Turn off the tap and apply soap. Lather up, by rubbing your hands together; that includes the back of your hands, in between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Step 3 – Scrub thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. How long is 20 seconds? It’s the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” (And to liven things up, here’s an – admittedly, odd – rendition of the tune with customized hand-washing lyrics!). Timely choruses from other songs that seem pertinent include “So Fresh, So Clean” by OutKast and “Oops...I did It Again” by Britney Spears. Here’s a handwashing playlist; yes, there’s a playlist for everything.
  • Step 4 – Rinse. Be thorough here, too, to get all that lathery residue off your hands, fingers, and nails.
  • Step 5 – Dry. Use a clean towel – such as a single-use Scott Paper Towel – or air dry.


No Access to Water for Hand Washing? Try Hand Sanitizer

Using soap and water is the best way to rid your hands of germs and other disease-causing gunk. But in a pinch, hand sanitizer is a better-than-nothing option – just as long as it’s alcohol-based and contains at least 60% alcohol. Check the label if you’re not sure.

The process is similar to that of soap and water:

  • Squirt a dollop into your palm.
  • Rub your hands together, coating the palms, back and fingers of your hands.
  • Rub for 20 seconds (with or without the help of an aforementioned song).

When not in use, make sure to store your hand sanitizer in a cool, safe place that is out of reach of your kids. Keep an eye on the expiration date on the label and dispose of any hand sanitizer that has expired.

Man helping little boy wash his hands under a sink

When and How Often Should You Wash Your Hands?

The CDC notes several activities that should prompt immediate and thorough handwashing, including before and after the following:

  • Preparing food
  • Eating food
  • Taking care of someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea
  • Treating a cut or wound
  • Using the toilet
  • Changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Touching a pet or other animal, including animal waste
  • Touching garbage


How often do you wash your hands? How do you get your children to do so? Please share your hand-washing insights and tips, via social media channels. Remember to use the tag #KeepLifeRolling.


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