Reminder: Here's the Right Way to Wash Your Hands

Kylie Gilbert

There are many life lessons to be taken from a global pandemic, but perhaps the most basic of them all is just how long 20 seconds actually lasts when you're washing your hands correctly. Since the celeb PSAs may no longer be fresh in your mind, here's a not-so-gentle reminder: Along with social-distancing, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is proper hand-washing, and avoiding touching your face or putting your hands in your mouth.

As coveted as hand sanitizer may be, it should only be used as a stand-in until you can find access to soap and water. And while fabric face masks can add a layer of protection when venturing out of the house, wearing one is also not a replacement for hand-washing.

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The fact that frequent and thorough hand-washing prevents you (and others) from getting sick shouldn't be a surprise – it's your top-defense against the regular cold and flu. But if we're keeping ourselves honest, we most definitely weren't washing our hands this methodically pre-coronavirus, so we'll take the reminder.

Here's what proper hand-washing looks like, according to the CDC:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (it can be warm or cold), and apply soap.

  2. Lather your hands by rubbing your palms together, then lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers (including the often-neglected thumb), and under your nails.

  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. (The World Health Organization suggests 20-30 seconds.)

  4. Rinse your hands thoroughly under clean, running water.

  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel, or simply air dry.

The CDC recommends singing "Happy Birthday" twice to get you to your full 20-30 seconds. And as you've likely seen hundreds of times on Instagram by now, you can also use Wash Your Lyrics, a tool that pairs the lyrics to a song of your choice with instructions on how to wash your hands.

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As we previously reported, long nails can harbor more germs and bacteria — so it's a pretty good case for keeping them short. If you choose to rock your stiletto nails, be sure to add an extra 20 seconds to focus on your nails, and consider using a nail brush to gently scrub the undersides of your nails while washing.

As for how often you should wash your hands, you pretty much can't overdo it. When it comes to protecting yourself against coronavirus specifically, the CDC recommends washing your hands after you have been in a public place and touched an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens, etc.

Here's their complete list for when you should wash your hands. (Which, uh, should apply even when there isn't a pandemic going on.)

  • Before, during, and after preparing food

  • Before eating food

  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea

  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

  • After using the toilet

  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

  • After handling pet food or pet treats

  • After touching garbage

We'll leave you with these wise words from Blue Ivy Carter's PSA: "Peace out. I hope you guys are staying safe. Wash your hands extra and please stay at home."

The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.