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Monday Medical: Wash hands, but hold on antibacterial soap

Monday Medical
MondayMedical

Hand washing tips

Though it might seem straightfoward, most people don’t properly wash their hands all of the time. Follow the tips below to be sure your hands are clean.

• Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold).

• Apply soap and rub your hands together, making sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under nails.

• Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.

• Rinse hands with clean running water, then dry hands.


With flu season rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to remember the importance of washing your hands.

But this year, there’s no need to reach for the antibacterial soap.

Hand washing tips

Though it might seem straightfoward, most people don’t properly wash their hands all of the time. Follow the tips below to be sure your hands are clean.



• Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold).

• Apply soap and rub your hands together, making sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under nails.



• Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.

• Rinse hands with clean running water, then dry hands.


Following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent ban of triclosan and 18 other antibacterial chemicals in hand soaps, the FDA is encouraging consumers to choose regular soap and water.

Antibacterial claims can be enticing, suggesting these products provide an additional level of protection. But according to the FDA, there is no scientific evidence that antibacterial soaps are better at preventing the spread of illness than soap and water.

“Any time you have a chemical, there’s a risk versus reward to using it,” said Paul Hill, laboratory section head and infection prevention coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “The studies they’ve done in the home environment haven’t shown any benefit to antibacterial soaps over good, old-fashioned hand washing.”

Studies do, however, suggest there may be risks associated with these chemicals. Potential health risks linked to triclosan include disruption to certain hormones and long-term health impacts. The chemicals may also contribute to antibiotic-resistance in bacteria.

Hill, who has never used antibacterial soaps at home, feels that, for healthy people, too much focus on killing off bacteria can be a bad thing.

“In a health-care setting, there’s a real benefit to limiting exposure to bacteria,” Hill said. “But in everyday life, there’s no real benefit in trying to kill that many germs.”

The FDA’s ban does not apply to soaps used in health-care settings, where people may be undergoing surgeries or may have a compromised immune system. Hill recommends immunocompromised patients talk with their physicians about which products to use.

The FDA’s ban does not affect hand sanitizers, though the FDA has issued a proposed rule to request more scientific data showing that active ingredients in hand sanitizers are safe and effective. Hill recommends only using hand sanitizers when you don’t have access to soap and water, for instance, when camping.

Otherwise, properly washing your hands with soap and water is the best choice and is especially important this time of year.

“Influenza season essentially peaks when people are indoors and in closer quarters,” Hill said. “Hand washing, along with good cough etiquette, is definitely important going into influenza season.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands at the following times: before, during and after food preparation; before eating; before and after caring for someone who is sick; before and after treating a wound; after using the restroom; after changing a diaper; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; and after touching an animal or animal feed or waste.

“It’s so well-documented how effective regular soap and water work in helping prevent the spread of colds and flu in the house,” Hill said. “There’s no reason not to stick with what works.”

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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