By now, you’ve heard countless reminders to wash your hands. It’s one of those things we just know in our gut to be true. It just makes sense. There’s probably something we touched, probably something germy… But have you stopped to wonder why washing our hands is so important in general? We did. Turns out such a common practice can be a surprisingly powerful weapon in the war against infectious disease. “[Washing your hands] is one of the most important ways to interrupt transmission of viruses or other pathogens,” says Sallie Permar, a physician and infectious disease researcher at Duke University. “It can have a major impact on an outbreak.”

Washing your hands boils down to a game of keep away. To actually infect a person, viruses and other microbes must first get inside the body, where they can infect living cells—so if one lands on your hands, the best next move is to remove or destroy it. 

The CDC suggests you should get your entire hand wet—front, back, sides—with clean, running water. Lather up with soap and pay attention to between your fingers, under your nails, and other forgotten ad overlooked spaces. Then scrub for at least 20 seconds and then rinse and dry. (Pro tip: If counting bores you while you’re scrubbing or you’re sick of the birthday song, try the chorus of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Or Raspberry Beret. Or Africa by Toto.)

Done properly, this process accomplishes several germ-taming tasks. Lathering, scrubbing, and rinsing physically removes pathogens from your skin. And soap is a great tool for this as well. Soap tends to break up the outer shell of many viruses, incapacitating the pathogen. “Basically, the viruses become unable to infect a human cell,” Permar says.

So now that we’ve learned why washing hands is a good thing, we just need to remember to do it often. Here’s a radical idea: pair it with something else you already do! Brushing your teeth, maybe? Give Finney Family Dentistry a call today to schedule an appointment so we can all keep our good habits. Oh, and wash your hands.

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