By the time most of us made it to kindergarten we learned to wash our hands — after using the toilet, making mud patties, or petting the dog, etc. It was a seemingly useless chore as a kid, but proper hand washing is actually the foundation of good hygiene.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of infections may be transmitted by hands. Proper hand washing is a simple and effective way to prevent infection and avoid getting sick. Throughout the day we collect germs on our hands from contact with other people, animals, and contaminated surfaces and foods. We blow our noses, cough, sneeze, and use the toilet. We also rub our eyes, and touch our mouths and noses. The common cold, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections, as well as several gastrointestinal diseases are spread through hand-to-hand contact.

The CDC has made a simple but thorough video on proper hand washing technique. It's three minutes well spent.

Hand washing 101 courtesy of the CDC:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap [regular soap is fine; antibacterial soaps are not any more effective at killing germs]. Warm water is preferable.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces — between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet [this is a smart move when in a public restroom], and use the same towel to open the door to exit, and then toss it away. [Most of us use cloth towels in our homes and these are fine, as long as you remember to change them often.]

I love hand sanitizers. I carry them in my purse, in the car, and definitely in the diaper bag. They are cheap and come in a variety of sizes. Skip the alcohol-free variety, and look for hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol. After applying about 1/2 teaspoon into your palm, make sure to rub your hand together well. Keep rubbing until your skin surface feels dry. Remember hand sanitizers are effective, but typically don't clean as well as soap and running water on hands caked with dirt.

To get children to wash their hands properly, demonstrate the proper technique and ask them to sing or hum the "ABC" song or "Happy Birthday" to determine how long they should keep scrubbing. Also, if possible give them their own soap and soap dish — let them pick it out. My oldest son is fascinated by translucent bars of soap that smell like fruit, and now it’s his job to choose the hand soaps for our household. Many liquid soap containers are designed with cartoon characters, and dispense soap as brightly colored foam.

Handy Spa Treatment

All of this hand washing may leave your hands a little dry and chapped if not adequately moisturized. There's no need for your skin to take a beating. Keep your favorite moisturizing lotion or cream next to the sink, and some travel-size hand cream in your purse or desk drawer — at the very least, slather a thick lotion or cream on your hands at bedtime. Then put on a pair of cotton gloves and really let the moisture soak in.

Also, once per week or so try the following moisturizing mask: mix ½ cup of sugar with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Rub into your hands well, particularly the skin on the back of your hands, then rinse off in warm water, and dry your hands. Voila! Super soft.