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Handwashing: The Secret to Good Health

Closeup of an adult and child washing hands at the sink.

The easiest way to protect yourself against illness? Handwashing. It seems too simple to be true, but a mere 20-30 seconds of proper handwashing, following the CDC’s handwashing guidelines, is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs and disease.

  1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 80 percent of infectious diseases are transmitted by dirty hands.
  2. Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16 percent.
  3. Researchers estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented.

Why and How Handwashing Works

Let’s first start with the fact that germs stick to hands really well, and it takes a fair amount of water and friction to remove them. While a vigorous and thorough washing (20-30 seconds) with water alone does remove some germs, the gold standard for removing the most germs is soap. Here’s how soap works.

Follow the CDC handwashing guidelines and help prevent germs from spreading in your home and community:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands. Be sure to get the backs, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

That’s it. In less than half a minute, your hands are clean!

While using a stop watch while handwashing obviously won’t work, you can time your scrubbing by humming the Alphabet Song to yourself, or singing Happy Birthday to yourself a couple times. Or, you can change it up with one of these more contemporary hits!

Note: When soap and water are not available, the CDC offers the following guidelines for When and How to Use Hand Sanitizer.


Dr. Heidi J. Syropoulos

I joined Independence Blue Cross in 2015 after practicing Geriatrics for nearly 30 years. In my current role I function as the medical liaison to our Government Markets team, serving as a subject matter expert on clinical medicine and healthcare delivery. What I love about my position is the opportunity to help an entire population of people through the benefits of their health plan.