HOW TO: Eco-Wash Your Hands Properly

eco home, fight flu, cold season, hand washing, healthy kids, healthy living, spread germs, wash-your-hands, antibacterial soap, reusable hand soap

Young child washing up after handling a turtle - a cause of Salmonella bacteria. Image via CDC/ James Gathany

When To Wash

Frequent hand washing matters more than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  notes that the, “Simple activity of frequent handwashing has the potential to save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention and is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal diseases and pneumonia.” Washing your hands should happen after your child (or you) plays outside, especially at a public place, such as a park. Wash up after caring for, or being exposed to a sick person, after changing a diaper and before and after you care for a wound. You should always wash after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Hands also need washing when prepping and cooking food or after you or your child touch an animal. Of course, wash up after using the bathroom too.

eco home, fight flu, cold season, hand washing, healthy kids, healthy living, spread germs, wash-your-hands, antibacterial soap, reusable hand soap

Wash Correctly & Long Enough

Young children need to be shown how to wash correctly. Standing by their side and demonstrating can be helpful. That said, even many adults can use a hand washing primer. First, wet your hands with clean running water. Warm or cold water is fine according to the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), although warmer water is more comfortable.  Apply your soap. Rub your hands together and scrub them well. Be careful to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails and rings too. This scrubbing should continue for at least 20 seconds. If your child has problems counting out 20 seconds, have him hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Rinse your hands well to run off soap and germs under clean running water. Dry your hands on a clean hand towel.

eco home, fight flu, cold season, hand washing, healthy kids, healthy living, spread germs, wash-your-hands, antibacterial soap, reusable hand soap

Use Plain Old Soap

Antibacterial products are popular, but most are not green or even necessary in the home setting. If you’re addicted to antibacterial soap, consider this –  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially categorizes antimicrobials as pesticides. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not the EPA, regulates antimicrobials in human products like soap, but their toxicology is the same – a pesticide. Also, most conventional antibacterial soaps contain triclosan. Triclosan (pdf) is a synthetic, broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent. Beyond Pesticides says that, “Studies have increasingly linked triclosan to a range of health and environmental effects, from skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistant, and dioxin contamination to destruction of fragile aquatic ecosystems.

Plus, and this is key, right now there is actually zero current research that supports any extra health benefits from having antibacterial-containing cleansers, over basic soap and water, for hands, dishes or other items in the average healthy household. WHO says that kids who wash their hands regularly with soap and water have 53% lower incidents of diarrhea and they also say that there’s no added benefits for kids who use antibacterial products. The CDC also advocates against antibacterial soap, noting that if your hands are visibly dirty, antibacterial rubs are not effective, and that plain old soap and water works best. Lastly, unless your goal is to grow an army of massive super germs (germs that can’t be killed) I’d skip the antibacterial soap.

Instead of antibacterial soap, which costs more, is dangerous and is not effective, use basic organic or natural, non-toxic soap. You can try something like the Organic Goats Milk and Lemongrass soap shown above, or look at soaps offered by Dr. Bronner, Method or Vermont Soap.

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