Lather, Rinse, Repeat … and Repeat … and (You Get It)

When should you wash your hands?

By Ruchi Kaushik, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine
Medical Director, ComP-CaN (Comprehensive Peds for Complex Needs)
Medical Director, CHRISTUS Children's Blog

You have heard health care professionals talk about hand washing repeatedly. Well, if they haven’t convinced you and your family/friends to lather up this holiday season, I bet these gruesome facts will!

  • Approximately four out of five contagious diseases are passed by touching someone (and you just hugged your sister).
  • Only one out of five people wash their hands before preparing food (and your mom made the turkey this year).
  • Roughly one out of six cell phones have fecal (poop) matter on them (maybe because you just let your toddler nephew borrow yours?).
  • Almost two out of five people don’t wash their hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses (and you just shook your boss’s hand).
  • About seven percent of women and 15 percent of men do not wash their hands at all after using the bathroom. (EWWW! OK, that’s just gross. And I really hope you don’t know anyone who does this.)

Now that you are thoroughly disgusted, let me share the benefits of the simple task of handwashing.

  • Handwashing prevents one out of every three children from getting a diarrheal illness and one out of every five children from getting a respiratory illness (colds, flu, pneumonia).
  • Handwashing education for children can improve school attendance.
  • Preventing illnesses by handwashing results in less frequent use of antibiotics and can improve the likelihood of antibiotic resistance.

I am sure I have you hooked now, so let’s make sure you know the proper handwashing technique! Just follow these five steps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) every time.

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Try singing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice to make sure you scrub long enough.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Wet hands can transfer germs more often than dry hands.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food and before eating food.
  • When caring for someone who is sick.
  • When treating a cut or wound.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • After using the toilet.
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet.
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste.
  • After touching garbage.

So lather up, rinse, and repeat as often as necessary! Stay healthy this season. For more information, visit

If your child is ever a patient at CHRISTUS Children’s, we encourage you to ask your nurses, doctors and other caregivers if they have washed their hands when they enter your room.