15.10.2021 - Products & services

Global Handwashing Day: 5 interesting facts

The development of regular handwashing is unquestionably one of the most important hygienic revolutions ever to be experienced by Europe; an important milestone in containing epidemics, reducing childbed fever and infant mortality. Although we take it for granted, we must still always be aware of how important thorough handwashing actually is. WEPA is dedicated to sustainable hygiene solutions that are intended to contribute to your well-being. For this reason, we've put together the five most important and most surprising facts about Global Handwashing Day.

Why is handwashing so important?

We transmit most diseases via our hands. If you blow your nose, go to the bathroom, stroke an animal or touch raw meat, you have germs on your hands. If, with your unwashed hands, you then touch door handles, objects or other people, you transmit germs. If other people touch the objects and then touch their faces, pathogens reach the mucous membranes and can trigger an infection.

This is why, for example, the Robert Koch Institute has been advising against shaking hands with other people since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Another important component in the concept is to disinfect your hands using sanitiser if handwashing is not possible. After all, hand hygiene is an exceedingly important asset if we want to protect ourselves and others from infectious diseases.

5 facts about handwashing

Fact 1: Washing hands saves lives

Colds and flu, diarrhoea and vomiting: people spread 80% of infectious diseases through their hands. By washing your hands frequently, you not only protect yourself, but also those people around you. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), thorough handwashing with soap could halve child mortality caused by gastrointestinal infections in developing countries. Proper hand hygiene also reduces the frequency of pneumonia. Don't forget: sneeze into the crook of your arm, not into your hand!

Fact 2: Proper handwashing means using soap

A survey by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine revealed a rather disgusting fact: one third of women and two thirds of men do not wash their hands with soap after going to the bathroom. Yet, using soap is vital for effective handwashing: it destroys the lipid layer that protects the genetic make-up of viruses. Water is not able to do that. This makes soap even better than sanitiser for fighting viruses.

By the way, in the normal course of your day, it is sufficient to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap. Additional use of sanitiser is only necessary if handwashing is not possible. Or if there are reasons for increased levels of hygiene – for example if you visit a hospital or if there are contagious diseases within the family.

Fact 3: The fight against germs

Washing hands with soap for 30 seconds reduces the number of germs by 99.9%. And handwashing is also particularly effective if everyone does it. Thoroughly washing and drying your hands (and fingers!) helps to keep diseases in check in your environment and prevent infection.

But be careful: anyone who touches the handle or doorknob in public washrooms after washing their hands no longer has clean hands. The reason: as stated under Fact 2, not everyone thinks about their hand hygiene. Therefore, it's always better to touch door handles with a paper towel or your elbow.

Fact 4: Dry your hands – but do it properly!

Moist hands pass on up to 1,000 times more germs than dry hands. But with drying we have to differentiate: according to a survey by the University of Westminster, compressed-air hand dryers spread 1,300 times more germs through the air than paper towels. The germs are distributed up to three metres in the room. With conventional hot-air dryers, there are “only” around 215 times as many germs spread, and up to a distance of 75 cm. Accordingly, the most hygienic solution is paper towels.

Fact 5: Washing hands long enough

To get rid of as many pathogens as possible, handwashing should be done for 30 seconds. Fingertips, the backs of the hand and between the fingers: doing hand hygiene properly requires a lot of time. But most people wash their hands much too quickly. The WHO therefore recommends singing “Happy Birthday” two times when washing your hands.

What's necessary for good hand hygiene?

Good hand hygiene needs healthy skin. Damaged and cracked skin cannot be cleaned thoroughly enough. And thorough handwashing is then painful as well. This makes it difficult in such cases to wash hands long enough and carefully enough.

Therefore, good hand hygiene also needs sufficient care, because if you wash your hands frequently and for a longer amount of time you also wash out important skin lipids. This means the barrier function of the skin is damaged. Because the acid mantle also suffers, bacteria, fungi and viruses have an easy job. Eczema then quickly develops and can even become chronic if the affected person does not seek a doctor.

Hand hygiene is therefore also a matter of using the right soaps and creams. Moisturising soaps without unnecessary fragrances are useful to ward against dry hands. The pH value should be neutral to the skin – around 5.5, and the water for washing does not additionally dry out the skin if it is lukewarm.

If possible, the hands should be moisturised after each washing. Here as well, it makes particular sense to use fragrance-free, rich creams. Dermatologists advise occasionally using alcohol-based sanitisers that have no fragrances and caring substances, e.g. glycerol, instead of handwashing, especially if the hands have been damaged. This is because hand disinfection only dissolves the lipids in the skin layer and does not rinse them out. However, washing with soap remains a must after going to the bathroom, if your hands get dirty, after using public transport and before eating.

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