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You’ve no-doubt heard how important washing your hands is in recent weeks. With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, hand washing has taken center stage in the fight against the pandemic. Clean hands may reduce the risk of the disease spreading and could protect you and your loved ones.

So what makes hand washing so important? Viruses can survive on surfaces for a considerable amount of time. Some viruses could survive for hours or maybe even days on a doorknob, for example. If you touch a contaminated doorknob, then touch your face (or a loved one’s face) you could be exposed to the virus.

We’re still learning about the virus, but WebMD reports that coronaviruses can survive for lengthy periods of time on many surfaces:

  • Wood: up to four days
  • Metal (such as silverware or doorknobs): up to five days
  • Stainless steel: 2 to 3 days
  • Copper (such as cookware): Just 4 hours
  • Aluminum (say, a soda can): 8 hours
  • Glass: 5 days
  • Cardboard (shipping boxes, etc.): 8 hours

The COVID-19 coronavirus is a new virus and we’re still trying to understand it. This particular coronavirus could exhibit different characteristics from other coronaviruses. Either way, you should be worried about the virus spreading through surfaces and hand contact.

Materials and surfaces that are likely to carry infections are called “fomites.” A high-risk fomite is something that’s touched frequently and in a short period of time. Doorknobs and elevator buttons, for example, could be touched hundreds of times per day.

If a virus is on a fomite and you touch it, the germ could now be on your hand. If the virus stays on your hand, you’re probably fine. However, if you touch your mouth or eyes, the COVID-19 bug might be able to slip into your body.

If you wash your hands with soap, however, you can kill the virus. Hand washing is effective at killing most bacteria and soaps. However, if you don’t use the proper techniques, you may not kill pathogens, including the COVID coronavirus.

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has put together a guide for washing your hands properly. We’ve based on our advice on that guide. Let’s jump in so you know how to wash your hands properly.

  1. First, wet your hands with warm or cold water. We recommend going up to at least your wrist and a bit beyond. Some people go all the way up to their elbows.
  2. Turn the water off and reach for some soap. Most soaps are quite good at killing germs. Liquid soaps often lather the easiest, so may be the best choice.
  3. Lather the soap, meaning you rub it and get it to form bubbles and foam. If you’re having trouble getting a good lather, try adding a bit more water and/or soap.
  4. Keep rubbing your hands and lathering the soap for at least 20 seconds. Any less, and the viruses or bacteria on your hands could survive. Going up to 30 seconds is perhaps a bit better. It takes about 30 seconds to say your ABC’s twice.
  5. Now, wash off your hands and dry off with a fresh towel.

Follow the above steps and you’re well on your way to washing your hands properly. Make sure the lather covers your hands. Don’t forget in between your fingers, either. The lather should be thick and should completely cover your hands.

When Do I Need to Wash My Hands?

You should always take hand washing seriously. However, amid the outbreak, you need to be even more careful. Every time you leave your house to head to the grocery store, gas station, or wherever, you should refrain from touching your face and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

If possible, keep a hand sanitizer in your car or truck. Hand sanitizer dries quickly, and you don’t need water. However, hand sanitizer isn’t as good at killing viruses as soap and lather. If you can wash your hands with water and soap, you’re better off doing that. Still, hand sanitizer is great on the go or when sinks aren’t around.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus could be on packaging at the grocery store, doors, vehicles, and more. You’ll inevitably come into contact with surfaces.

Also, wash your hands at these times (even when there is no outbreak):

  • After going to the bathroom
  • Before, during, and after cooking
  • Before you eat
  • Before and after cleaning a wound
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • After taking out the trash

There you have it. Washing hands and using hand sanitizers isn’t a cure-all. You could still be exposed to the coronavirus. However, washing your hands frequently may reduce risks. At the end of the day, it’s good hygiene and could protect you from other diseases.

Check out our COVID-19 Resource page for more information and updates.