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Dec 1, 2016

Hand Washing 101: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

By Mayo Clinic Transplant RN, @mayoclinictransplantrn

“Don’t forget to wash your hands!” You’ve been hearing it since you were a kid. In fact, you’ve probably heard it so many times, you don’t even think about it as you go through the motions. But since washing well and washing often is your first line of defense against germs, it's one of the best ways to stay healthy.

Germs accumulate on your hands throughout the day as you come into contact with food, other people, and various objects. As those same hands rub your eyes, itch your nose, or brush your lips throughout the day, you run the risk of passing those germs into your body. While it's impossible to keep your hands completely germ-free, washing your hands can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes keeping illness at bay.

Hand washing for transplant patients 

Hand washing is important for anyone, but especially for those with medical conditions, including people on transplant waiting lists and recent transplant recipients.

Without immunosuppressant (or anti-rejection) drugs, your body would treat your life-saving organ like a germ and attack it after your transplant. These medicines block your body’s natural defenses, which allow your new organ to thrive. Unfortunately, they can also block your body’s natural defenses against germs, making it all the more important for you to be proactive against germs.

When should I wash?

Always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing or eating food
  • Treating wounds, giving medicine, or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses

Always wash your hands after:

  • Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Using the toilet or changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes, or waste
  • Blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing into your hands
  • Treating wounds or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated — such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes
  • Shaking hands with others

Is there a right way to wash? image-97d733c2069f

In this video, Mayo’s Gregory A. Poland, M.D., teaches Jimmy Kimmel the proper method for hand washing with “W.L.S.R.D.”

  1. Wet your hands with running water
  2. Lather with soap
  3. Scrub hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails
  4. Rinse well
  5. Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer. If possible, use a towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet

Should you use warm or cold water?

Warm water is preferable to cold, and most people find it a more comfortable temperature to use. Cold water doesn't remove germs and oils as well as warm water. Oils can hold bacteria and germs, so it's important to remove them as much as possible.

How effective is hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer doesn't eliminate germs as well as soap and water, particularly if your hands are visibly dirty. However, if soap and water is not available, hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol are a good alternative.

Is antibacterial soap better?

Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than regular soap. Using antibacterial soap might even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents, making it harder to kill these germs in the future. If possible, use regular soap.

Do you have good habits when it comes to hand washing? Did they change when you became a transplant patient?


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