Is using soap an important step in handwashing?

Answered by Tamara Cox, RN, HPPS Division Director, Eastern Idaho Public Health District

“Twinkle, Twinkle, little star….” You sing to yourself, as you are washing your hands like Mom has taught you to do, since you were tiny. Your favorite dinner is on the table and you are starving, but Mom won’t let you sit down to eat until you wash your hands. You are singing the song and hurrying to get the job done, when you begin to wonder. Do I have to use soap to have clean hands or can it just be water? Mom is right; there five steps for washing your hands the right way and reasons why it is important to complete each step, according to the Center for Disease Control.Wash hands with soap

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Hands could become recontaminated if placed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use; clean running water should be used. The temperature of the water does not appear to affect germ removal.
  2. Lather your hands using soap. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Soap is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and germs from skin and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star song from beginning to end twice. Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and germs from the skin. Germs are present on all surfaces of the hand, as well as under the nails, so the entire hand should be scrubbed.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water. Soap and friction help lift dirt, grease, and germs from skin so they can then be rinsed off. Rinsing the soap away also minimizes skin irritation.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; therefore, hands should be dried after washing.

Then next question you might have is “when to use these 5 steps to wash your hands? These are some ideas of when wash your hands:

  • Before eating or handling food
  • Before playing with a group media (playdough, watertable, etc.)
  • After using the toilet or changing a diaper
  • After playing outdoors or in sand
  • After playing with pets or animals
  • Whenever they look or smell dirty

Following the five steps to wash your hands and remembering when to wash your hands will help to keep you healthy, and ready to have fun.

How Does Soap Work?
Materials: jar with lid, cooking oil, water, dishsoap

  1. Put some cooking oil and water in the jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake.
  2. Let the jar stand for a few minutes. What do you see? The oil and water will separate into layers.
  3. Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to the oil and water and screw the lid on tightly again.
  4. Shake and leave for a few minutes. What do you see? You should see a cloudy mixture. The oil and water are no longer in separate layers.How Soap Works

Normally, oil and water don’t mix, so they separate into two different layers. Soap breaks up the oil into smaller drops, which can mix with the water. It works because soap is made up of molecules with two very different ends. The head of the soap molecule loves water and will attach to other water molecules. Its tail on the other hand loves oil and will attach to other oil molecules.

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