National Handwashing Week: How Essential is Hand Hygiene?

December 9, 2022
National Handwashing Week


  1. What Is National Handwashing Week?
  2. History of Handwashing
  3. What Is Hand Hygiene?
  4. How Long Should You Wash Your Hands?
  5. How Often Should You Wash Your Hands?
  6. What To Look For In Hand Soap
  7. How Does Hand Soap Kill Germs?
  8. Are Hand Sanitizer As Effective As HandWashing?
  9. Handwashing In Communities
  10. Final Thought


Personal hygiene begins and ends with our hands. And though we’re taught as youngsters to wash our hands before dinner, it’s important to remember that germs don’t care what time of day it is. Clean hands prevent sickness. So, it’s especially important to learn the basics of hand hygiene. Let’s examine some handy tips and info in honor of National Handwashing Awareness Week.


The purpose of this annual event celebrated the first full week in December, is to educate people on the importance of proper hand hygiene and appropriate hand-washing techniques. Don’t get it confused with Global Handwashing Day on October 15, which focuses on the importance of handwashing with soap and water all over the world.


Handwashing has been a central component of personal hygiene and a religious and cultural custom for many years. However, the link between handwashing and health was first made less than two centuries ago. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working at Vienna General Hospital, is known as the father of hand hygiene. In 1846, he noticed that the women giving birth in the medical student/doctor-run maternity ward were much more likely to develop a fever and die compared to the women giving birth in the midwife-run maternity ward. He noticed that doctors and medical students often visited the maternity ward directly after performing an autopsy. Based on this observation, he developed a theory that those performing autopsies got ‘cadaverous particles’ on their hands, which they then carried from the autopsy room into the maternity ward.

As a result, Semmelweis imposed a new rule mandating handwashing with chlorine for doctors. The rates of death in his maternity ward fell dramatically. This was the first proof that cleansing hands could prevent infection.


Simply put, proper hand hygiene can help reduce infections by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water or cleaning your hands with a waterless, alcohol-based sanitizer. Hand hygiene is a way of cleaning one’s hands that substantially reduces potential pathogens (harmful microorganisms) on the hands and is considered a primary measure for reducing the risk of transmitting infection amongst others. It was years before hand hygiene became standard procedure around the world, but once it was, it was quickly recognized as a lifesaving practice.


If you’ve ever wondered how to wash your hands properly, a quick rinse does not get rid of germs as effectively as a long, thorough scrub. So how long should you wash your hands? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hand hygiene guidelines note you should scrub for at least 20 seconds.

The World Health Organization (WHO) developed a five-step hand-washing method specifically for healthcare workers to avoid spreading germs to others and getting sick yourself.


5 Steps to Proper Handwashing:

  • Wet your hands with warm, clean water and apply soap.
  • Lather the soap and create bubbles by rubbing your hands together. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Scrub your hands and arms up to the elbows.
  • Rinse your hands to wash away soap and germs.
  • Dry your hands and arms with paper towels, or a blow dryer if possible.


As a child, you were probably told to wash your hands before eating and after a bathroom break. But that’s not the only time a good hand-washing session is necessary. Here’s when you should wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after making any kind of food.
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick.
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound.
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child or other adult who has used the toilet.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • After touching an animal, animal food, or animal waste.
  • After touching garbage.
  • If you’re not sure if you should wash your hands … you should probably go ahead and wash them!


When choosing a hand soap during the winter, know that all hand soaps contain detergents such as surfactants that can clean your hands. Surfactants break down the bonds between water and dirt. They hold dirt and oil in suspension which allows for the effective removal of unwanted oil and dirt on the skin. Surfactants are used as wetting agents, emulsifiers, and foaming agents in soaps. This helps create that thick lather that effectively cleans your hands. Any hand soap, even if it’s not labeled an antibacterial hand soap, will wash away harmful germs and bacteria on your hands. Most hand soaps include other ingredients such as abrasives, fragrances, and coloring agents. Abrasives, such as quartz or sand, exfoliate the skin and remove stubborn soils. Fragrances, usually made of plant oils, mask the scent of other ingredients and add pleasant, distinctive scents, while colorants improve the attractiveness of the product

There are a lot of different options for hand soap. While some people may opt for antibacterial soaps in hopes that they will be more effective, the Food and Drug Administration asserts that antibacterial soap has not been proven to be any more effective than regular soap. Ultimately, the choice is yours. If you are looking for a naturally derived soap, there are many effective options to try—whether you prefer a basic unscented formula, a fruit-scented liquid hand soap, or a floral bar of soap. No matter what you choose, the important part is to make soap an essential ingredient in your handwashing routine!


People typically think of soap as gentle and soothing, but from the perspective of microorganisms, it is often extremely destructive. A drop of ordinary soap diluted in water is sufficient to rupture and kill many types of germs and bacteria. The secret to soap’s impressive might is its hybrid structure. Soap is made of pin-shaped molecules, each of which has a hydrophilic head — it readily bonds with water — and a hydrophobic tail, which shuns water and prefers to link up with oils and fats. These molecules, when suspended in water, alternately float about as solitary units, interact with other molecules in the solution and assemble themselves into little bubbles called micelles, with heads pointing outward and tails tucked inside.

When you wash your hands with soap and water, you surround any microorganisms on your skin with soap molecules. The hydrophobic tails of the free-floating soap molecules attempt to evade water; in the process, they wedge themselves into the lipid envelopes of certain microbes and viruses, prying them apart. In other words, soap doesn’t kill germs on our hands, it breaks them up and removes them.


Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to remove all types of germs and chemicals. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Applying hand sanitizer may be easier, but even the ones with sufficient alcohol content cannot remove all types of bacteria and viruses. Soap and water are far more effective at removing such common illness-causing germs. Studies show that hand sanitizers work well in clinical settings, where hands are not heavily soiled or greasy. But in work and community settings — where people handle equipment, food, or play sports — sanitizers can’t clean thoroughly enough. Moreover, hand sanitizer is ineffective if too little is applied or it is wiped off before it has dried completely. Hand sanitizers also probably cannot remove or inactivate harmful chemicals we may come into contact with.


Many germs that can make people sick are spread when we don’t wash our hands with soap and clean, running water. That is why handwashing is so important, especially at key times such as after using the bathroom, when preparing food, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

Handwashing with soap and water is simple and inexpensive, and it can significantly reduce the number of young children who get sick. Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Studies show that handwashing education in the community can:

  • Reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by about 23%–40%
  • Reduce the number of school days children missed because of gastrointestinal illness by 29%–57%
  • Reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by about 58%
  • Reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by about 16%–21%


Handwashing has always been an important step to good health. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been washing our hands more than ever. This time of year is another reminder of why it is so important to wash up. Making a habit of good hand hygiene is an easy, effective way to prevent infections and sicknesses. What kind of hand soap do you normally use?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Explore Other Blog Items By Category