Handwashing 101

by Donna Walls, RN, BSN, ICCE, IBCLC, ANLC

There have been concerns expressed by many health-related consumer groups about the use and overuse of antibiotics and antibacterials in so many of the products we use everyday. We hear the commercials promoting antibiotic-free meats and dairy, brought on by the research based concerns of the growth of “super-bugs”, or those bacteria which have been able change and become resistant to the antibiotics we presently use to treat infections. “Back in 2013, the FDA first proposed the ban and called on soap manufacturers to submit data that would show that their products were both harmless and could out compete plain soap in de-germing humans. The agency reports that manufacturers either didn’t bother submitting data or offered up data that wasn’t convincing. In the meantime, many manufacturers have already started phasing out triclosan and other antimicrobial compounds from their products.” (Beth Mole – 9/2/2016) In July of 2016 the FDA issued a statement expressing concerns over the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial chemicals in soaps and popular hand sanitizers along with this statement: “Focusing on children and pregnant women, if these ingredients show up in blood or urine after repeated daily use, it could mean the chemicals are hurting reproductive systems or the production of hormones.” Then, in August of 2016 the FDA took the next step to ban antibacterial soaps with this statement: There is “No scientific evidence” they’re safe, effective. Ban applies to soaps with any of 19 chemicals, including triclosan.

The 19 chemical ingredients included in the ruling are:

  • Cloflucarban
  • Fluorosalan
  • Hexachlorophene
  • Hexylresorcinol
  • Iodophors (Iodine-containing ingredients)
  • Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylenesorbitanmonolaurate)
  • Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
  • Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
  • Poloxamer-iodine complex
  • Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
  • Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
  • Methylbenzethonium chloride
  • Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
  • Phenol (less than 1.5 percent)
  • Secondary amyltricresols
  • Sodium oxychlorosene
  • Tribromsalan
  • Triclocarban
  • Triclosan
  • Triple dye
  • Antibacterial soaps

This will be a huge change for so many families who have been lead to believe using this short cut hand cleansing method was safe and effective. But, just like our mothers said- go wash your hands! The CDC confirms mother’s words of wisdom: “Handwashing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine—it involves five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy. Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it can keep us all from getting sick. Handwashing is a win for everyone, except the germs.” The CDC has declared October 15, 2016 as Global Handwashing Day.

Handwashing 101

When to wash hands
  • Before eating
  • Before and after preparing food
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing an infant’s or child’s diaper
  • After sneezing and/or coughing
  • After contact with an ill person
How to wash your hands

Wet hands with warm (not hot) water, lather with non-antibacterial soap and scrub for 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). Rinse well with warm water and dry thoroughly.

What if I am not close to water?

If there is no water source available atemporary, acceptable substitute is an alcohol-base hand cleanser with 60% alcohol. A caution is issued for proper storage of alcohol cleansers to keep out of reach of children! Another natural option is to make your own with distilled water and pure essential oils: Begin with 1 oz distilled water and add 10 drops each of lavender and lemon pure essential oils (artificial or fragrance oils do not contain antimicrobial properties). Place a dime-sized amount in the palm of the hand and work well into skin. Avoid ingestion by infants and children. So, armed with good information we can all make safer decisions on keeping our families healthier as we head into the cold and flu season of 2016.


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