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The Essential 20-Second Handwashing Rule

washing hands with soap and water

Following the 20-Second Rule can be the difference between dodging a cold and sidestepping the flu this season.

Observing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 20-second timeframe for washing hands with soap and water is literally nothing to sneeze at. For during this unpredictable and anticipated fierce 2019-20 cold and flu season, proper daily handwashing hygiene is essential.

Recent studies have shown most people still have mucus on their hands after washing them. Thus, their hands are still transmitters of cold and flu bugs.

Noted microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor at the University of Arizona affectionately known as “Dr. Germ” for his work with microbes, says the reason most people fail to remove all mucus from their hands is they simply aren’t washing their hands long enough.

“The reason why is most people don’t wash their hands long enough to kill the germs,” Gerba told “We’ve done surveys and watched people and timed them. (The average handwashing time) comes out to only 11 seconds. So nobody really does it long enough.”

Alas, we Americans are not honor students when it comes Handwashing Class. Heck, we’re not even C-grade students. A Journal of Environmental Health study found only five percent of Americans wash their hands long enough to kill germs after they go to the bathroom, and only two in three people use soap.

And mucus makes our hands conduits for sickness every time we shake a friend or coworker’s hand. This makes having hand sanitizer as ready backup to handwashing essential during the sickliest months of the year.

“Our hands become contaminated by things we touch,” Michelle Barron, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado, told the Washington Post. “The intent of sanitizer is to clean your hands” of bacteria, viruses and germs in general.

Thankfully, Gerba stresses, ethanol-based hand sanitizers can finish the job that we fail to do when we don’t wash our hands with soap and water long enough.

“In our studies hand sanitizers worked pretty darned well compared to soap and water,” Gerba told

The last thing any of us want to do aside from working for free is routinely timing ourselves when we wash our hands, but when it comes to effectively and thoroughly keeping our hands free of cold and flu viruses, attention to detail is essential.

Here’s a review of the CDC’s Guide For How To Properly And Thoroughly Wash Your Hands With Soap and Water:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap to a lather
  • Scrub all surfaces: Palms, Backs, Fingers, Between Fingers and Under Nails
  • Scrub for 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice
  • Rinse under clean, running water, dry hands with a clean towel or dry

For 20 seconds can make all the healthy difference in the world for you, your family, friends and coworkers as we weather a 24/7 assault of sickly germs and bacteria.

For as Healthline’s Kathryn Watson stresses, “Rushing the process can result in cross contamination and increased sickness.

“… Knowing when and how long to wash your hands makes a difference in how often you and your family gets sick.”