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Hand Hygiene Myths And The Real Answers Behind Them

There are too many misconceptions around hand hygiene. In fact, according to a 2013 study, only 5% of Americans actually wash their hands as well and as often as they should. These numbers should sound shocking – but they really aren’t surprising if you read enough of the studies done in recent years around the topic of hand hygiene.

The problem seems to lie in people thinking that they know how and when to wash hands well, according to the latest research. Employees that scored themselves high on hand hygiene knowledge usually ended up having the most germs present on their hands once actual handprints were taken. Why is that? After going through enough hand hygiene lectures and seeing enough handwashing posters, these employees seemed to think that “they know best” when it came to their hand hygiene habits. Experts believe that these employees have gotten so self-assured that they became complacent, actually neglecting to wash their hands because they “know enough” to determine how and when to do it correctly by themselves. Clearly, their test results showed that their hygiene habits were insufficient.

What myths about hand hygiene led these employees to these practices? As the exact research didn’t specify, we can only guess. However, after working in the hand hygiene field for years we’re pretty confident we can uncover the mental workings behind unclean hands. This is why we’ve gathered some of the most common misconceptions regarding hand hygiene, and intend to address them head-on so that people everywhere can improve their technique. We’re here to shed some light on some of the most common myths that lead to faulty hand hygiene practices in everyday life.

“If I wash my hands with soap, simply scrubbing is not important”

Wrong! The mechanical action of scrubbing your hands, skin to skin, helps lift germs that have been clinging to the skin. Once lifted, these germs cling to the soap thanks to its gooey consistency and are eventually washed away together with the soap under the water stream. 

It’s true that some of these germs latch onto the soap as it is being spread evenly and frothed, however, other more tenacious germs need to be lifted through scrubbing. The physical action of scrubbing is actually so important that even without soap, simply scrubbing your hands well under the water stream helps get rid of 77% of germs. This doesn’t mean soap is not significant in the handwashing process – with soap and proper scrubbing for the required 30 seconds, you get rid of 99.9% of germs on your hands.

“Water temperature is not important when handwashing”

False! There are two reasons why this sentiment is wrong. For one, warm water raises compliance rates as the water is more comfortable to use, especially during colder weather. The second reason is that warmer water helps soap froth better, which in turn increases the physical contact point with the soap. The FDA, for example, has ordered handwashing water temp to be at a warm 38°C (100°F).

“If you don’t have any paper towels available, you can always dry your hands on your jeans”

False! Drying solutions are actually every bit as important as the handwashing process itself. Disposable paper towels are the ideal solution for drying hands after washing them, as they are considered relatively hygienic and (if stored properly) should not be carrying any dangerous bacterias. The same cannot be said for other hand-drying solutions.

First, let’s address the problematic idea of drying your hands on your jeans. Transient bacterias, to which you’ve been exposed all day, are waiting on your clothes. Wiping your hands on your pants or jacket returns the exact same bacterias that you had just washed off right back onto your hands. 

How about just leaving your hands to air-dry? Not a good call. Leaving your hands wet is not optimal, to say the least. The wetness helps germs cling better, which means wet hands actually gather more germs than dry ones.

The common dish-rag will not be doing your hands a good service either. A reusable towel to dry hands is the least favorable solution, especially when it is shared with other people who do not share your household. The fabric is left damp after use in a closed space (the bathroom) and that helps mold grow inside the fibers, even if we can’t see it. On top of the mold, dry pieces of skin that are left on the fabric after drying hands also feed bacteria thriving in the dampness. Reusable towels are not changed nearly as often as they need to be, which is why when drying hands with a reusable towel you are usually just smearing them in dangerous bacteria.

If you don’t have paper towels, the second-best solution is to dry your hands in an air dryer. Air dryers are not exactly problematic to the user per se, but they can be unhygienic to the rest of the people in the room or those who will touch surfaces in the room in the future. The reason being – if someone did not wash their hands well enough they tend to blow the germs all across the room, up to a 4 feet radius. This infects surfaces all around you, as well as splatters those waiting in line behind you. According to a study done on the subject, air-dryers actually spread germs 190 times more than disposable paper towels.

“Using hand sanitizer before eating out is enough, no need to wash your hands”

Wrong! Oh, boy, is this wrong. Hand sanitizer is a great option in most cases when handwashing is not available, however, most diarrhoeal viruses don’t respond to it at all. What we usually blame food poisoning on is quite frequently not caused by the actual food, but by the viruses accompanying our hands. Some of these viruses are Norovirus, E. Coli, Clostridium difficile colitis, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, and a variety of microscopic parasites. These bacteria do not respond to hand sanitizers – but are rendered inactive through soap and water. This is why simply using hand sanitizer before eating is not enough. Good handwashing with soap and water for 30 seconds gets rid of 99.9% of germs – and is so much more recommended before eating.

“Antibacterial soap is good for you”

You guessed it, wrong again! Antibacterial soap is anything BUT good for you. Antibacterial soap often “works” through an agent called Triclosan. Triclosan stops the germ cells from replicating – sounds great, doesn’t work. It takes way longer than the 30 seconds required for handwashing for Triclosan to activate, so it is not more effective than regular soap in everyday handwashing. Germs can also grow immune to Triclosan, causing antibiotic-resistant germ growth. On top of all of these, antibacterial soap really dries out your hands and disrupts the natural balance of oil and normal skin flora. Also, it hasn’t been proven on humans yet, but lab rats exposed to Triclosan have consistently developed hormonal imbalances. So, antibacterial soap is not ideal to use every day.

“Soap and water dry your skin out”

This one is actually true! Soap does dry your skin when used excessively. This is why it’s important to pick effective yet gentle soap, like Soapy Lore, that minimizes the effect of the skin’s natural oils. Using hand creams to restore the skin’s elasticity is great, as well as drinking enough water. Staying hydrated has more of an effect on our skin than we think. 

“You shouldn’t wash hands because your immune system needs some exposure to germs to make you strong!”

The line between good hand hygiene and “exposure to some germs” is very clear and nonnegotiable. Washing hands at key times – before eating, after using the bathroom, after handling trash or petting animals, etc., is really just common sense and centers around protecting your body when it is most vulnerable to potential germs. Being sick doesn’t always make your body stronger and more resilient in the face of germs. For example, different versions of the common flu pop up every year around winter – and being sick once does not mean you won’t be sick again within the same season or in the years to follow. While you’re sick your immune system is compromised, and you can easily catch other infections. Maintaining good hand hygiene habits, even when you’re perfectly healthy, is a way to ensure your body keeps thriving.

“You don’t need to pay attention while washing your hands. It’s just some water and soap!”

Not true – at least, until you are an expert in handwashing and can follow the correct routine without thinking about it too much. Hand hygiene is all about good habits. This may come as a surprise, however, most of us tend to “space out” when we wash our hands. Think about it, when do you usually wash your hands? We usually wash our hands during break time, one of the few moments throughout the day when we can “kick back” and let our minds wander. This causes us to not pay attention to what we’re doing right now, to not be present in the moment, and mindfully wash hands.

One of the best things about Soapy’s CleanMachine is how it instills good hand hygiene habits off the bat. Once the correct movements are instilled in us, even when our head is elsewhere we still perform the ingrained movements. Our “autopilot” version becomes better and with it our hand hygiene – even when we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing at all. 

“The interest people have in handwashing nowadays is excessive. People have gotten by for centuries without it – why start now?”

In a way, this one of the most troubling statements we’ve discussed in this article, and mainly because it is such a common misconception. People have died in the past and continue to die today because of poor hand hygiene. People did not “get by” without good hand hygiene – millions throughout history have lost their lives because the knowledge of handwashing was yet to be discovered or taken seriously. Semmelweis and Nightingale can attest to this fact. If the “simple” science behind handwashing had been known earlier, lives could have been saved. The interest handwashing is garnering nowadays is saving lives, without a doubt.

According to the CDC, in 2016 the yearly number of visits to physicians with infectious and parasitic diseases was 15.5 million. Do you still think handwashing is something that can be disregarded?

Due to modern advancements, more and more parts of the world enjoy clean living facilities, safe drinking water, and an opportunity to practice good sanitation. In turn, the average life expectancy has risen steadily and is continuing to rise to this day. However, not everyone has these opportunities.

According to the World Health Organization, diarrheal diseases that can be transmitted through dirty hands account for approximately 1 in 6 deaths among children under five years old. Sensitive populations like the elderly or people with immune-compromising conditions live in a constant battle with contagious infections. Many companies around the world are starting to grow aware of the responsibility they hold towards their employees and customers – to ensure a safe work environment from germs and bacteria.

Soapy has taken handwashing to the next level, creating an advanced solution that can change the way we practice hand hygiene. The CleanMachine, Soapy’s smart hand wash station, uses motion sensors to scan the hands as they are being washed and give the user a real-time analysis of their handwashing technique. The machine also plays out the correct hand movements to follow during the wash cycle. Soapy offers thorough hand hygiene data analysis so that hand hygiene trends inside work facilities can be seen and understood better than ever before. If you want to learn more about the CleanMachine, you can contact us here and a representative will contact you as soon as possible.

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