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5 handwashing tips for the holidays

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Nobody likes getting sick, especially during the holidays. One way to avoid catching a bah-humbug? Practice proper handwashing.

You may think you know how to wash your hands, but there's a right way to do it—and most people get it wrong. Discover how to wash your hands to avoid catching and spreading germs this holiday season.

It's easy and it works

Handwashing is a surprisingly effective way to avoid getting sick. It works by creating a friction that removes germs from your skin, including many germs that cause illness. We're talking cold germs, flu bugs and more.

But if washing your hands is so good at killing germs, why do so many of us get sick year after year? It turns out, we aren't spending enough time at the sink.

In one study, researchers surveyed people outside public restrooms. They found that only 64% to 75% of women and 30% to 51% of men washed their hands after using the toilet.

And of those who did wash their hands, only 5% did it for the recommended amount of time—20 seconds.

How to wash your hands

To rid your hands of the most germs, you need to use proper handwashing technique. Experts recommend these five steps:

  1. Wet your hands. You can use hot or cold water. Turn off the tap to save water during the next few steps.
  2. Lather up. Apply soap and rub your hands together to make a lather. Scrub all over your hands, including the backs or your hands and under your nails.
  3. Scrub for 20 seconds. Lathering with soap for at least 20 seconds helps you remove more germs from your hands. Anything less than that kills fewer germs. Don't want to count to 20? Humming the "Happy Birthday" song twice is the right amount of time.
  4. Rinse your hands well under the faucet.
  5. Dry your hands with a clean towel, or air dry them.

When to turn to hand sanitizer

Using soap and water is the best way to clean your hands. But it's not always easy to get to a sink—like while you're out doing your holiday shopping. In those cases, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or hand gel. Keep some in your purse or your car's glovebox.

When buying a hand sanitizer, check the product label to make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol. It takes that amount of alcohol to help kill germs. Put some of the gel on your hands and rub them together until they're dry, which should also take about 20 seconds.

More ways to avoid getting sick this winter

Washing your hands is a good place to start, but there are other steps you can take to avoid getting and giving illnesses this season. Take a look at these winter stay-well tips.