Clean Hands


How essential is hand washing and how can I get my kids to remember to do it?

Dr. Greene's Answer

In a recent study of 341 children’s daycare centers, infrequent washing of children’s or providers’ hands after nose wiping, after diapering, before meals, and before food preparation was spectacularly associated with a higher frequency of illness. Hand washing and other hygiene practices for clean hands actually do reduce the spread of disease (Public Health, 1998;113(6):544–551).

The most important times for most of us to wash our hands are after sneezing or coughing, after toileting, upon leaving “high-risk” places (pediatrician’s waiting rooms, ball pits, daycare centers, fast-food chain play structures, high-traffic door knobs, etc.), and always upon arriving home (to keep outside germs outside). Of course, hand washing before meals and snacks is a must. (Before a child picks his or her nose would be nice but is not always practical.)

I have kids sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to themselves while washing to remind them to scrub long enough and hard enough to make a difference (my daughter’s suggestion).

Lots of water and a moisturizing soap are a great way to wash, but this isn’t easily available at all the right moments. I’ve found a recent innovation to be portable, practical, and fantastic. Instant Hand Sanitizers, pioneered by Purell, are a wonder (they are now available in many other brands). Talk about convenient! A small bottle can be carried about in a purse, glove compartment, or even a hip pocket. A little dab will kill 99.99% of germs without any water or towels. It uses alcohols to destroy germs physically. It is an antiseptic, not an antibiotic, so resistance can’t develop.

And here’s the cool part — it’s fun. Many kids think it’s a treat to get to use it! It’s finally actually possible for busy parents (and grandparents and daycare providers) to get those hands washed all those times you wish you could. We asked my son’s preschool to start using it and they agreed. The kids took to it quickly and we are all happy.

Last medical review on: December 15, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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