5 common hand-washing mistakes

5 common hand-washing mistakes

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that Illinois and 42 states are experiencing high or widespread flu activity,health officials say it’s extremely important that everyone take all the flu-fighting precautions they can. These include getting your flu vaccination, covering your cough and sneeze and washing your hands.

Washing your hands may sound simple, but you could be making mistakes that make your hand washing less effective and leave you susceptible to the flu or other infections.

According to Dr. James Malow, infectious disease specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, there are five common slipups most people make when trying to get their hands clean:

  1. Not washing long enough—You may often be in a rush and think just using soap and water will be enough. Experts say you should wash for at least a full 15 to 20 seconds. According to one study, only 5 percent of participants met that standard. If you don’t want to count the seconds, try singing “Happy Birthday”—twice.
  2. Not washing often enough—Do you wash every time you use the restroom? According to the study by researchers at Michigan State University, 10 percent of the more than 3,100 participants didn’t wash at all. And it’s important to wash your hands not only after using the restroom, but after handling garbage, before you eat and even after you’ve touched surfaces in public areas that may contain flu and cold germs, such as stores, gyms and public transportation.
  3. Insisting on antibacterial soap—This may sound like a more effective way of fighting germs, but that’s not necessarily the case. Any soap, if used properly, is just as effective at killing germs. Concerns have also arisen that antibacterial soaps may contribute to a rise in drug-resistant bacteria, as well as the growth of liver tumors.
  4.  Not drying off completely— If you’re not drying your hand completely, you’re only doing half the job. Germs thrive in moisture, so even if you’ve used soap, you open yourself up to contamination if you don’t dry thoroughly.
  5. Touching bathroom surfaces—As seen with recent outbreaks of norovirus in closed quarters, like cruise ships, faucets, counters and other restroom surfaces are breeding grounds for harmful bacteria. After you’ve washed use a clean towel to turn off the tap and open the door in public restrooms. It’s a good idea to do this at home too if a family member is sick.

“Clean hands save lives,” Dr. Malow says. “Hand-washing is simple, effective and proven to help avoid the spread of illness like the flu. Pay attention to how you’re washing and you’ll effectively protect yourself and those around you.”

Related Posts



  1. Thanks for the great tips on hand washing to stay healthy this season! I never knew regular soap is just as effective as antibacterial soap. Very interesting.

  2. The best way to prevent/cure colds and flus is to take probiotics, get your vitamin D3 levels 50 to 100 ngr/mL and supplement if necessary and get your vitamin C levels up using lypopheric or lyposomal vitamin C (conventional is destroyed quickly). No studies confirm that handwashing helps anything. Build your immune system and you don’t have to worry about “germs”. The world is filled with “germs” and you can’t avoid them, it’s ridiculous to think you can. The better way is to build your immune system. And avoid antibacterial anything. Your body and the environment is filled with probacterias that protect you.

  3. I was able to find a number of studies that do indeed confirm the importance of good hand washing in a matter of 5 minutes:
    1. Azor-Martínez E, Cobos-Carrascosa E, Gimenez-Sanchez F, Martínez-López JM, Garrido-Fernández P, Santisteban-Martínez J, Seijas-Vazquez ML, Campos-Fernandez MA, Bonillo-Perales A. Effectiveness of a multifactorial handwashing program to reduce school absenteeism due to acute gastroenteritis.External Web Site Icon Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2013 Oct 3.
    2. Bowen A, Agboatwalla M, Luby S, Tobery T, Ayers T, Hoekstra RM. Association between intensive handwashing promotion and child development in Karachi, Pakistan: a cluster randomized controlled trial.External Web Site Icon Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012 Nov;166(11):1037-44.
    3. Liu L, Johnson HL, Cousens S, Perin J, Scott S, Lawn JE, Rudan I, Campbell H, Cibulskis R, Li M, Mathers C, Black RE; Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group of WHO and UNICEF. Global, regional, and national causes of child mortality: an updated systematic analysis for 2010 with time trends since 2000.External Web Site Icon Lancet. 2012 Jun 9;379(9832):2151-61.
    4. Lau CH, Springston EE, Sohn MW, Mason I, Gadola E, Damitz M, Gupta RS. Hand hygiene instruction decreases illness-related absenteeism in elementary schools: a prospective cohort study.External Web Site Icon BMC Pediatr. 2012;12:52.
    Burton M, Cobb E, Donachie P, Judah G, Curtis V, Schmidt WP. The effect of handwashing with water or soap on bacterial contamination of hands.External Web Site Icon Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jan;8(1):97-104.
    5. Ejemot RI, Ehiri JE, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing for preventing diarrhoea.External Web Site Icon Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;1:CD004265.
    Aiello AE, Coulborn RM, Perez V, Larson EL. Effect of hand hygiene on infectious disease risk in the community setting: a meta-analysis.External Web Site Icon Am J Public Health. 2008;98(8):1372-81.
    6. Ejemot RI, Ehiri JE, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing for preventing diarrhoea.External Web Site Icon Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD004265.
    Huang DB, Zhou J. Effect of intensive handwashing in the prevention of diarrhoeal illness among patients with AIDS: a randomized controlled study.External Web Site Icon J Med Microbiol. 2007;56(5):659-63.
    7. Rabie T and Curtis V. Handwashing and risk of respiratory infections: a quantitative systematic review.External Web Site IconTrop Med Int Health. 2006 Mar;11(3):258-67.
    Franks AH, Harmsen HJM, Raangs GC, Jansen GJ, Schut F, Welling GW. Variations of bacterial populations in human feces measured by fluorescent in situ hybridization with group-specific 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes.External Web Site Icon Appl Environ Microbiol. 1998;64(9):3336-3345.
    8. Master D, Hess Longe SH, Dickson H. Scheduled hand washing in an elementary school population.External Web Site Icon Fam Med. 1997;29(5):336-9.

  4. I am a nurse, and imagine I disregard hand washing & just take all the vitamins in the world.
    Touching body fluids & not washing hands… Just imagine. Start praying I am not your nurse next time you visit the doctor’s office or hospital.

  5. Yeppers keep washing your hands… nothing better. Taking probiotics to prevent all illnesses? Really? Maybe we can do both, but to not worry about hand washing would be foolish.

  6. I want ask something i have OCD and i am afraiding of make sick other people specially children and old people. And because of this i am washing my hands like 5 minutes every time i have hard rituels when i am washing my hands i have them also when i am taking shower i am spending my hours when i am cleaning myself up and i want to ask a question :
    is water drops splashing on me dirty when i am washing my hands just because of them my washing time really increase…

  7. Thanks for sharing with us such Wonderful Information. Love this post! Many people don’t realize how the color of their towel (or even using an unclean rag) will affect the outcome

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.