Clean Up! - A Kid's Guide to Handwashing

Do you always wash your hands after you use the toilet? Do you wash them before you eat? Some people only wash their hands when they can actually see lots of dirt on them. Hand washing is something that is very easy to do but is also extremely important. Everyone should wash their hands several times a day. It helps to stop the spread of germs.

Why is Hand Washing Important?

Did you know that thorough hand washing can actually help to protect you from many serious illnesses such as meningitis? There are different ways germs can spread and washing your hands is a good defense against them. General rules for when to wash your hands include: before you eat or make food; after you have gone to the bathroom; after you clean a child who has just gone to the bathroom or you change a dirty diaper; after you have touched uncooked food particularly fish, poultry or raw meat; after you sneeze, cough or blow your nose; after you touch an animal or animal waste; after you touch garbage; both before and after you treat a wound; after you touch items that have been contaminated by sewage or flood water; when you can see dirt on your hands; and both before and after you care for someone who is ill. It is very easy to become infected with an illness. If you touch something with germs on it and you wipe your eyes, mouth or nose you can become infected. It is easy for you to then share these germs with the other people around you particularly family members. When one person in a home is sick it is often not too long before the others in the home contract the same illness. Good hand washing is an important defense for stopping the spread of illnesses such as the common cold and influenza.

Hand Washing Instructions

Do you know the best way to wash your hands in order to rid yourself of all the germs? If you are not near water and soap you can use an alcohol-based sanitizer to get rid of germs. You just need to place some sanitizer in your hands and rub them together until they are dry. Be sure you rub the sanitizer over all the surfaces of your fingers and hands. If you do have access to soap and warm water there are several steps you can follow to make sure your hands will be completely cleansed including:

  1. Turn on warm water and place your hands under the water.
  2. Squirt or rub soap onto your hands.
  3. Rub your hands together with the soap for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Clean and wash dirt from under your fingernails.
  5. Wash your palms, wrists, between your fingers and the back of your hands.
  6. Rinse the soap from both hands and turn off the water using a towel.
  7. Dry your hands completely with a clean towel or air dry them.

(Try to pat your skin dry rather than rub it so it won't chap or crack.)

  1. If you use a disposable towel remember to throw it in the garbage when you are finished.

Hand washing does not have to be complicated in order to get the job done but it is very effective in helping to stop the spread of germs.

Types of Bacteria

Germs can be found just about anywhere and they are divided into four different types including: bacteria, protozoa, viruses and fungi. Bacteria are very tiny, single-celled creatures. The environments they live in are where they get their nutrients from. The bacteria type can be good or bad. Your body needs the good bacteria in order to function properly. Some good bacteria will help you to digest your food, keep the skin on your body clean and fight illness. The bad types of bacteria can actually make you sick. They can invade and attack your body causing infection. Certain types of infection can attack your blood, skin or cells. These infection types need to be treated with medicine in order to get rid of them. A common type of bacteria you may have heard of is E. coli. This bacteria can spread from person to person but is more often found in food such as undercooked beef and vegetables rinsed with contaminated water. It is also found in your intestines. It actually helps your body in the breaking down and digesting of food. Yet there are specific strains of E. coli that can get into your blood from your intestines. It is a very uncommon illness when this occurs but it can lead to a serious infection. Some E. coli symptoms include: bad stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.

Another bacteria type is salmonella. It can be carried by certain animals and cause a foodborne illness. It can be found in eggs, raw meats, animal waste, soil, water or even on kitchen surfaces. Usually salmonella infections affect your intestines and cause symptoms such as fever and vomiting which will go away on their own. Not all people who ingest the bacteria will become sick. Babies and children are more likely to become sick from the bacteria than adults. There are different kinds of salmonella and they vary in how you tend to contract them and how severe the resulting illness can be. Washing your hands is an essential way to protect yourself from bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. You especially need to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom and before you touch any food.

Hand Washing Laws

Did you know that people in the food industry are typically required by law to wash their hands and exposed parts of their arms immediately before beginning work? They are even required to wash their hands before they put on single service gloves. They are also required to wash their hands: after they handle fresh, raw or frozen beef, fish, poultry or meat; after cleaning such as sweeping or mopping; after handling or removing garbage; after using the telephone; after bathroom use; after sneezing, drinking, eating or smoking; and after touching anything that could lead to a contamination of their hands. Some state laws do not require workers in the food industry to wear gloves but require that the ready-to-eat food be made and served without any contact from bare hands. Disposable gloves are one option these workers can use to prevent their bare hands from touching the food. It is also highly recommended for people who work in the health care industry who touch people with their hands (such as doctors and nurses) to always wash their hands before and after helping a patient.

Additional Resources

Did you know that hand washing can actually be fun? It doesn't have to just be another boring task. There are many activities, games, songs and school programs that can help to make it more fun. You can even conduct experiments to learn about hand washing. For example, if you put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in your hands and wash them with only cold water (no soap) they will still feel oily. Next add a little more oil and wash your hands with warm water (but no soap). They will still feel slick but not quite as bad as when you washed with cold water. Finally, put oil in your hands again but wash thoroughly with warm water and lots of soap. This experiment truly shows you how much more effective washing your hands with soap and warm water is. The following links provide great ideas for adding fun to washing your hands.