The importance of handwashing

Is the hype about hand washing really true or is it an overreaction?

It is common knowledge that washing hands well after performing any activity is the best way to keep away from infections. Hand washing is the oldest and most simple step one can take in order to ensure prevention of bacterial infections or spread of infections from person to person. It is one of the most underrated means of prevention because a lot of times when we are asked to wash our hands we ignore it. But this is a message that is actually worth repeating.

Proper handwashing helps prevent many illnesses as germs can spread in many ways. In our daily routines, we often touch many things and objects without realizing the harm it could cause. Everything from doorknobs, tables, bottles to our own mobile phones have germs because various people use/touch it. Once a person is infected, it’s only a matter of time before that the people around also get infected. Handwashing is definitely the first line of defense against the spread of various infections like the common cold, hepatitis, meningitis, respiratory infections, skin, and diarrhea etc. Handwashing is definitely an underrated technique of saving yourself a trip to the hospital. It is like self-vaccinating against infectious diseases.

What are the most important situations in daily life when you must wash your hands?

It is best to keep your hands clean at all times and make sure you take the necessary preventive measures at certain times, for instance, if you are down with the flu, ensure to carry a tissue/hanky to avoid the spread of germs to your hands and the surroundings. Use clean running water to wash your hands. On a daily basis, we perform various activities that require us to wash hands before and after performing the activity. Your hands must be washed clean when performing the below activities;

  • Before and after cooking food
  • Before and after eating food
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing when you are sick
  • After touching or taking out the garbage
  • After touching an animal or its feed
  • After and before treating a wound
  • After cleaning around the house
  • After visiting a sick person in the hospital
  • After smoking


What’s the best way” soap or hand sanitizers?

Sanitizers are the easy and modern way to washing hands that most people use now. As per recommendations the best way to eliminate germs and the best practice to follow is washing hands with soap and water. However in cases when water and soap are unavailable you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer which will help kill the germs.

In order to understand this, it is also essential to know how handwashing works with soap and water and with a hand sanitizer. The primary purpose of a hand soap is to remove the bacteria and germs and not kill it, whereas a sanitizer kills the infectious germs. When washing your hands with soap and water the germs get trapped in the natural oils of the skin and get washed away with water. A sanitizer, on the other hand, kills the bacteria by making it ineffective.

In any case, if you have access to water and soap, it is best to follow the traditional means of handwashing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are acceptable in cases when water and soap aren’t available as they are for on the go cleaning.


Will ordinary soap do the job or do you need medicated soap?

Washing your hands with soap and water is the most commonly used practice. Using a soap is much more beneficial than just washing hands with water. It is always recommended to use a liquid soap instead of a bar soap because bar soaps, when used by many people tend to get infected or its impact wades off. Some people, however, tend to have skin irritation caused by soap. Such people may need to use soaps that have a different pH and are rather mild.

All soaps are equally effective in killing germs, provided proper and effective handwashing techniques are followed. There is no need to use a specific anti-bacterial or medical soap for this purpose.


There is a lot of concern about hand sanitizers and their real function. What is the truth about them?

Washing hands using soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes in most situations. When the hands are visibly dirty or greasy washing hands with soaps is highly recommended. In case of non-availability of soap and water, for example, while traveling the hand sanitizers will be of some help. However, hand sanitizers cannot remove all microbes on the hands effectively. Hand sanitizers are not recommended for infants and children as they tend to put their hands into their mouths and it can lead to alcohol poisoning.  Sanitizers cannot remove harmful chemical contaminants from hands whereas washing hands with soap and water are the best thing to do in such situations.


Can they also kill the good bacteria and harm skin?

Hand sanitizers are widely used today by children and adults equally, in everyday practice. People have sanitizers in their cars, bags, office desks etc. and use it to clean not just their hands but also areas around them.

From our skin to the internal structures within the body, there are bacteria everywhere. The immediate thought upon hearing ‘bacteria’ is infection-causing agents. What most people fail to realize is that there are two types of bacteria; good bacteria and bad bacteria. The good bacteria are also known as probiotics and protect the body from diseases and allow the body to stay immune.

It is true that hand sanitizers kill not only the bad but also the good bacteria which live on the skin acting as the first line of defense against germs. Presence of these good bacteria is important as they prevent and protect the skin from major injury. The absence of these bacteria on the skin causes skin inflammation.

Sanitizer does not necessarily harm the skin, although alcohol-based sanitizers may harm cause skin irritation in those who have sensitive skin.


What are the dangers of not washing hands?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand washing is the best way to prevent infection and illness. While performing routine activities our hands come in contact with many contaminants and forms of bacteria. If you don’t wash your hands properly before and after performing these activities, there is a risk of developing serious infections either by ingestion of these bacteria or by other means. People often touch different places and then touch their eyes, nose etc. without realizing that germs can enter into the body through these means and make you sick. Germs from unwashed hands also get into the food and drinks you consume which can cause infections.


What are some of the dirtiest things we touch on a daily basis?

We touch a number of items in our daily lives, without realizing how swarming with bacteria they are. The first thought to cross anybody’s mind would be toilet seat, however apart from, that there are various other objects we come in contact with on a daily basis that may cause infections. A few of them being;

  • Sponges used in cleaning utensils
  • Mobile phones
  • Door knobs and handles
  • Faucets
  • Remotes
  • Laptops, keyboards, telephones
  • Hand towels in the bathroom
  • Toothbrush holder


Are children and adults equally guilty about non hand washing?

 Washing hands is a family activity that both parents and children should always practice. Unfortunately some adults overlook the importance of hand washing and set a wrong example to children. Many a times children do not listen to parents when they are asked to clean their hands before eating, after using the toilet or when they come home after playing. It is an instruction worth repeating to children as it is a simple and the best way to keep away infection.  So it is the responsibility of adults to reiterate the importance of hand washing to children. Sometimes children learn the importance of hand washing from their school and bring home the practice and encourage rest of the family members to practice.












Dr. Rajesh Kumar Gurumoorthy

Specialist Dermatologist

Aster Clinic, Discovery Gardens


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