Hand-Washing 101: Coronavirus Prevention

With Coronavirus making headlines globally, people are constantly talking about the most important yet simplest advice given by the World Health Organization (WHO) to stay safe from COVID-19 – wash your hands. 

COVID-19 has already infected 100,000 people worldwide as of writing. To make sure that the number does not further spike by being infected yourself or by spreading it to others, regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand rub as this can kill viruses that may be on your hands. Elizabeth Scott, PhD of the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community at Simmons University Boston says that the hands are the connecting piece. –  “You can’t necessarily control what you touch. You can’t control who else touched it. But you can look after your own hands.”

Hand washing sounds simple, but how does one make sure that it is done properly? The recommended duration of washing your hands is 20 seconds or the same length as singing the globally known song “Happy Birthday” twice. If you are tired of this song, Twitterverse has compiled alternative songs you can use. 

Here is a breakdown of what exactly needs to be done within those 20 seconds.


  • Wet your hands with clean running water, and apply soap.


Donald Schaffner, PhD, who studies predictive food microbiology, hand-washing, and cross-contamination at Rutgers University in New Brunswick said that research was done on water temperature, and what they have discovered is that water temperature doesn’t really matter in terms of effectiveness.

Soaps, instead of killing viruses and bacteria, lifts away dirt, oil, and other dangerous agents that get on your hands. Washing away the coronavirus might not sound as violent as stopping it dead in its tracks, but it’s proven to be more effective, especially for pathogens wrapped up in mucus.


  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Clean between your fingers, the backs of your hands, and under your fingernails.


There are various types of soaps you can choose from, but a 2017 study suggests that liquid or gel soaps may be more effective over a foaming pump soap. The study compared liquid and foam soaps from the same brand and found that washing with foam did not significantly reduce bacteria on the hands of people who were in the study, while washing with a liquid soap did. This is because foam washes off more quickly than gel soap and is more likely to give off the impression that the hands are already clean. 

As for bar soaps, numerous studies have found that bacteria can stay on bar soap that stays wet as it is used frequently. Nonetheless, studies have also shown that the bacteria and/or virus do not seem to transfer to the next user. As a precaution, if your soap bar looks wet, rinse it off underwater before using it with your hands, and try to store it so it will dry out between uses.

There are typical spots that are being missed when washing hands such as the aforementioned areas, make sure you wash these parts as well. 

  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. 

A 2013 study had trained observers discreetly watch more than 3,700 people wash their hands. It found that only a few people followed the 20-second rule. About one in four people just wet their hands without using soap – the “splash and dash” move referred to by hygiene researchers; and about one in ten people did not wash at all after a trip to the loo.

  • Rinse your hands well after you lather.

Since viruses like COVID-19 are encased in a lipid envelope which is a layer of fat. Soap can break this apart and make the virus unable to infect you. Rinsing your hands with clean running water makes skin slippery which makes hand washing more effective. 

  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Rubbing your hands with a paper towel removes even more substances than just washing alone. Dry hands are also less likely to spread contamination than wet hands.

The aforementioned steps are conducive if you have access to clean running water and soaps. If you do not have any access to these, you may use alcohol based sanitizers so long as they contain 70% alcohol. The way sanitizer works is primarily through the power of alcohol. Alcohol can kill many types of bacteria and viruses by destroying their outermost layer, rendering them unable to take over a host. It may keep you protected from a lot of the invisible threats you might pick up on mass transportation or a public restroom, but are not as effective as soap and water.

Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations. However, they may not be as effective. To use hand sanitizers, first, one must apply the gel product to the palm of one hand. Second, rub your hands together. Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers, make sure that the gel is spread out to areas that are usually left of. Lastly, let it dry. 

Now that we know the how’s of washing hands effectively, the next thing we must note is when. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed the key times when you are likely to get or spread viruses.

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before, and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for a sick person
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a chil
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food
  • After touching garbage

Something as quick and innocent as touching your face can bring virus in your body – this is why you should wash your hands. Now we know how and when we should wash our hands. 20 seconds of thorough hand wash, during the times you think you should, can protect you from coronavirus.