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Proper Technique is Key to Effective Hand Washing to Prevent Disease

With the growing concern over the 2009 H1:N1 flu virus, commonly referred to as “swine” flu, public health officials and even the President of the United States are urging people to wash their hands more frequently to prevent its spread.

However, a Washington State University Extension expert on the science of effective hand washing says that proper washing and drying are keys to it being an effective strategy for limiting spread of disease.

WSU King County Extension Educator Susie Craig says that most people don’t use the techniques that make hand washing an effective germ fighter. Craig established the award winning “Germ City: Clean Hands, Healthy People Program” that uses an interactive display to teach effective hand washing to everyone from food-handling professionals to school-children.

“Hand washing can be very effective, but most people don’t wash long enough, lather and scrub thoroughly enough, and often dry on a shared towel that can spread disease to others,” says Craig.

Craig says that scientific research has found that the proper technique can significantly reduce the amount of germs on the hands and recommends these tips:

  • Wet your hands thoroughly with vigorously flowing water, preferably hot;
  • Use enough soap to build a good lather;
  • Scrub vigorously for at least 20 seconds, creating friction and reaching all areas of the fingers and hands, including nails and cuticles;
  • Rinse hands thoroughly with plenty of water while continuing to rub vigorously;
  • Use a paper towel to dry, to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door. Handles and doors are the most contaminated surfaces in a restroom.

Craig says that if your family prefers to use cloth towels for drying you should provide a separate hand towel for each person in the household and wash them frequently.

“Drying is one of the ways you remove viruses and bacteria in the hand washing process, and if you share a hand towel you may be passing germs on to other family members, including your kids,” she says. “Just keep in mind, you are washing your hands not only to protect yourself from infection but to protect others as well.”

Craig also recommends that if you have to cough or sneeze, do so into a disposable tissue, then wash your hands. And as much as possible keep your hands away from your eyes and nose, especially after close contact with others.

Craig’s award-winning Germ City display demonstrates the difference that these techniques can make in the effectiveness of hand washing for removing germs. Participants rub their hands with a black-light sensitive liquid to simulate germs, then wash their hands and check in the display’s black light unit to see how many “germs” remain.

“In the demonstration most people wash more thoroughly than they normally would, and they are always astonished at how much they miss,” Craig says. “Proper hand washing takes a little more time and thought, but it makes a huge difference in effectiveness.”

For more information on the benefits of proper hand washing visit

To learn more about the Germ City Program go to


Media Contacts

Susie Craig, WSU King County Extension Educator, 206-205-3161