05.05.2022 - Sustainability

Washing hands properly – just 20 seconds can save lives

Germs, viruses and bacteria are constant companions in our everyday lives, even outside the season of colds and flu. We encounter them on door handles, when we shake hands, when we press the stop button on the bus or when we thumb through magazines at the hairdresser. They can make us cough or even transmit gastrointestinal infections. Fortunately though there's something we can do about it – and we even have it in our own hands, because correct hand washing gets rid of unwanted visitors on the skin in next to no time.

Fittingly, World Hand Hygiene Day places the focus on what is obvious anyway: hand hygiene is important and protects us and our fellow humans. But what is important here? What is good hand hygiene exactly? Why is drying hands so important? And what is World Hand Hygiene Day anyway?

What is World Hand Hygiene Day?

Did you know? Some pathogens transmitted via aerosol or droplet infections can also be transmitted by the hands in certain situations. The solution? Washing your hands!

In 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched World Hand Hygiene Day to provide us with information about proper hand hygiene. Since then, the motto of 5 May is “Save lives. Clean your hands.” As part of this day, the WHO is raising awareness about the importance of hand hygiene. There is also good reason for this – even before Covid-19, up to 80% of all infections were transmitted via our hands.*

What matters with hand hygiene?

Good hand hygiene protects against infections. But this doesn’t only include proper washing with soap and water to rid the skin of pathogens. Drying the hands afterwards is just as important. Read here about how to carry out effective hand washing and how important the drying of hands is:

How do I wash my hands properly?

Fortunately, washing hands is just natural for most of us. But how are hands actually washed properly?

1. Wetting

Hands are wetted by holding them under running water. The temperature doesn’t matter for cleaning but should be chosen to be pleasant: washing hands takes a moment.

2. Soaping up

The hands are then soaped. The soap should be lathered up and spread around. The palms, the backs of the hands, the individual fingers and the spaces between the fingers should be extensively soaped. Don't forget the tips of your fingers! Washing hands with soap is much more effective than just with water because washing substances get rid of dirt and microbes from the skin. Also, people tend to rub and rinse their hands more thoroughly when using soap than without, which achieves additional mechanical removal of the germs. Another factor is that certain germs are found in the skin’s natural greasy film and can hardly be removed with only water.

Tip: if you want to benefit the environment in addition to your own hygiene, use special environmentally friendly soap.

3. Thoroughness

The most important aspect is that when washing your hands, you soap up all the places where pathogens and particles of dirt might get stuck. That takes a little time – thorough hand washing takes at least 20 seconds.

4. Rinsing

Rinse off the soap under running water. When doing so, move the palms against each other to better rinse off any remaining dirt.

5. Drying

Thorough drying of the hands with towel paper is an integral part of hand washing. In particular, the spaces between the fingers should be dried completely.

When should I wash my hands?

In addition to proper hand washing with water and plenty of soap, the frequency of washing is also important for protecting oneself and fellow human beings. The reason is that pathogens are not visible to the naked eye. It is also why the Federal Centre for Health Education recommends washing your hands regularly and frequently.

Hands should be washed in the following situations:

• After arriving home.

• After each use of the toilet.

• After coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose.

• After changing nappies.

• After any contact with waste.

• After contact with all animals, their food or waste.

• Before using skin care products and cosmetics.

• Before and after cooking, and especially thoroughly if raw meat was processed.

• Before and after contact with sick people.

• Before and after treating injuries and wounds.

What should I pay attention to when I wash my hands frequently?

Dry hands are not only a problem that many people have to cope with in the cold winter months. Frequent hand washing may also cause the skin to dry out. To avoid this, use of a mild soap is recommended, and preferably pH-neutral. A rich hand cream after washing keeps the hands buttery soft and maintains the skin's moisture.

It is also particularly important that hands are always dried thoroughly.

What matters with correct hand drying?

Drying your hands properly is one thing above all else: thorough. This is because washing hands inevitably means that some bacteria and viruses stay on the skin. Germs then multiply better on moist skin. The danger also increases upon contact with surfaces. Too much residual moisture also damages the skin and causes skin diseases such as eczema.

But there are a few things to consider when drying hands. If it's done the wrong way, new germs will appear on the skin or the ones that are still there will spread. But what is the best way to dry your hands? Compared to cotton towels and airflow dryers, one method has been shown in surveys to be particularly hygienic: using paper towels.

What hygiene advantages do paper towels have when drying hands?

The paper towel has a major advantage after hand washing: it dries wet hands quickly and thoroughly. People only spend about 10 seconds drying their hands. In this time, one to two sheets manage to absorb a full 96 % of the water from hands.

Also, when using paper towels the distribution of germs is minimal. This is completely different with electric airflow dryers: they spread the bacteria and viruses that are still on the hands after washing via aerosols in the room. They thus increase the risk of infection and worsen air hygiene for hours on end. The density of germs is especially high in an area one metre around the air dryer.

Another aspect also plays an important role: if you don’t touch germ-laden surfaces you keep your hands clean. But with jet hand dryers, users unintentionally touch the surfaces around 13 times during a single use. This is the place where especially high levels of bacteria exist. Compared to dispensers for paper towels, they even have around a thousand times more germs. If you really want to be on the safe side, you can also use paper towels to operate door handles and close taps and thus minimise your risk of germ transmission.

How do paper towels become more sustainable?

Sustainability is very important to us. It’s no surprise then that we are constantly working on new ideas to make hygiene paper and its everyday use more environmentally friendly. First of all, it’s important to choose paper towels made from recycled paper instead of wood-based virgin fibre. This means the product has a smaller ecological footprint. Another idea has also proved to be good: the: paper cycle, as is possible with e.g. BlackSatino products. Paper towels that were used to dry hands are collected separately and returned to WEPA. The used paper is recycled to produce new toilet paper or hygiene paper that can be delivered again.


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