If you're like most Americans, your parents constantly reminded you to wash your hands as a child. And by the time you got older, the habit was firmly ingrained. But according to the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), most adults aren't washing their hands the right way.

Coming Clean

In a recent SDA survey, 68 percent of respondents didn't wash their hands for long enough to effectively remove germs and dislodge dirt, 36 percent seldom or never washed their hands after coughing or sneezing, and 31 percent didn't always wash them before eating lunch.


Since colds and other infectious diseases are often spread through hand-to-hand contact, washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to reduce your disease risk. The key, according to experts, is to wash them properly.

Being Thorough

Contrary to popular belief, running your soapy hands under cold water for 10 seconds isn't going to kill germs effectively. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should wash your hands for at least 20 secondsabout the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.


In addition, the Mayo Clinic offers the following tips:

  • Wet your hands with warm running water. Then apply liquid soap or a clean bar soap, and lather up.
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 15 to 20 seconds. (Some experts recommend washing for as long as 60 seconds to thoroughly kill germs.)
  • Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse soap off well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.
  • Use a towel to turn off the faucet.

Washing More Often

It's important not only how thoroughly you wash, but also how frequently. Be sure to wash your hands in all of the following cases:


  • After using the toilet.
  • After changing a diaper.
  • Before and after preparing foods, especially before and immediately after handling raw meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Before and after treating wounds and cuts.
  • After blowing your nose.
  • After coughing or sneezing into your hands.
  • After handling garbage.
  • Before inserting and removing contact lenses.
  • When using public restrooms, like the ones in airports, train stations, bus stations, and restaurants.