How do I guarantee my hands are washed and clean?
Michael W. Smith, MD
Internist, WebMD Medical Expert
Chief Medical Editor, WebMD
It started a few years ago when there was a flu shot shortage. No flu shot for me that year. I thought to myself, “I don’t want the miserable flu! What can I do?” That’s when I became a bathroom contortionist.
I knew that if I got the flu, I was likely to give it to myself.
You don’t usually get the flu from someone else. While someone coughing or sneezing in your face could certainly do it, thankfully that doesn’t happen very often.
You’re more likely to get the flu from yourself. You touch something that someone with the flu has touched. Then, you touch your nose or mouth and you’re infected! Flu viruses can live on surfaces for several hours – up to 24 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces!
You need to take steps not to infect yourself.
Since not touching your nose and mouth is very difficult, the best approach is to keep those hands clean. Here’s my bathroom contortionist routine.
First, I wash my hands. And no, just getting your hands wet doesn’t count. In order to get those clingy flu viruses off your hands, you need to wash with soap and water, rubbing your hands together vigorously, ideally for at least 20 seconds. But if you’re going to skimp on the time, don’t skimp on the scrubbing.
Here’s where so many people go wrong. Even if you get your hands good and clean, the key is to not dirty your hands again even before making your way out of the bathroom.
You have to figure out how to get a towel to dry your hands without touching anything but that towel. This might take some preparation. Make sure the towel is already available before washing your hands. Or, break out the contortionist in you. Use your elbow to get the paper towel out of the dispenser. Since it’s tough to get your elbow to your nose to infect yourself that way, it’s a pretty safe approach.
Now, to the faucet. Hopefully, the faucet turned itself off. If not, hopefully you didn’t turn it off with your hands! If so, start all over because a team of germs just jumped back on board. Turn the faucet off with the paper towel.
From this point forward, the towel is your hand.
On your way out the door, push the door open with something other than your hand (your butt, elbow, foot – pick your body part but I don’t recommend your head). Or, if you have to pull the handle to open the door, just make sure only the towel touches the door.
Then, I open any other doors with the towel and then toss it in the trash when I get back to my office.
I’m back in my office with squeaky clean, germ-free hands.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to wipe down your phone, your keyboard, and anything else that others may touch. An alcohol-based wipe should do the trick.