Why Is Hand Washing So Important?

A delicious mud pie, a good-luck rock, a friendly frog — just some of the types of goodies kids love to bring home. But these adorable gifts also can bring millions of germs with them.

Kids don't always listen when parents tell them to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, or when they come inside from playing. But it's a message worth repeating — hand washing is by far the best way to prevent germs from spreading and to keep kids from getting sick.hand washing

First Line of Defense Against Germs

Germs can spread many ways, including:

  • touching dirty hands
  • changing dirty diapers
  • through contaminated water and food
  • through droplets in the air released during a cough or sneeze
  • on contaminated surfaces
  • through contact with a sick person's body fluids

When kids come into contact with germs, they can unknowingly become infected simply by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. And once they're infected, it's usually just a matter of time before the whole family comes down with the same illness.

Good hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses — from the common cold to more serious infections, such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, the flu, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea.

Washing Hands Correctly

Here's how to scrub those germs away. Teach this routine to your kids — or better yet, wash your hands together often so they learn how important this good habit is:

  1. Wash your hands in warm water. Make sure the water isn't too hot for little hands.
  2. Use soap and lather up for about 20 seconds (antibacterial soap isn't necessary — any soap will do). Make sure you get in between the fingers and under the nails where germs like to hang out. And don't forget the wrists!
  3. Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.

To minimize the germs passed around your family, make regular hand washing a rule for everyone, especially:

  • before eating and cooking
  • after using the bathroom
  • after cleaning around the house
  • after touching animals, including family pets
  • before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives
  • after blowing one's nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • after being outside (playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.)

Don't underestimate the power of hand washing! The few seconds you spend at the sink could save you trips to the doctor's office.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: August 2014