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Are you washing your hands properly? Metro Detroit doctor puts common techniques to the test

Posted at 6:31 AM, Mar 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-09 18:33:54-04

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — As the Coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, local physicians are advising metro Detroiters of the best defense against any virus: proper hand washing.

Following news of the growing COVID-19 virus, which the CDC, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to monitor, many major cities have reported spikes in "panic buying" of health items like surgical masks or disinfectant wipes; but it's not something experts recommend for healthy people as a preventative measure.

MORE | "Local hospitals prepare as Coronavirus continues to spread globally"

"The masks are really only recommended if you are sick or if you’re caring for someone who is sick," said Dr. Tricia Stein, an infectious disease physician with the Henry Ford Health System.

Despite most people learning proper hand washing techniques in kindergarten, it's something many adults cut corners on; something Dr. Stein said can have a real impact on exposure to germs and harmful bacteria.

To visualize what cutting corners on proper hand washing looks like, we put Dr. Stein's methods, based on CDC recommendations, to the test using Glo Germ, a specialized lotion that simulates bacteria under a black light.

In order to achieve ideal cleanliness from hand washing, you should:

- Use warm water
- Apply liquid hand soap (According to the CDC, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit to using soap with "anti-bacterial" labels). Bar soap is acceptable – however bacteria can potentially rest on the bar soap, so liquid soap is preferred.
- Scrub, using pressure and friction -- on the inside of the palm, in the creases, and on the tops of your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- While the water is running, scrub in between your fingers, and underneath your finger nails.
- Dry with a single paper towel if possible — to avoid collecting new germs on your clean hands.

“Sanitizers are a great alternative. They don’t kill all of the germs that soap and water gets," Dr. Stein said.

If you are opting for a hand sanitizer, look for those with at least 60 percent alcohol on the label, as that allows for optimal germ fighting.

Using Dr. Stein's technique under the black light, we noticed a visible difference in the amount of bacteria build up on our palms; however, the black light was proof that germs tend to hide underneath finger nails, even when you think you've cleaned the area.

Dr. Stein noted that people who wear acrylic nails should take extra care to scrub underneath their finger nail's surface.

When a volunteer demonstrated a typical rush hand washing job -- throwing some water and a quick squirt of soap without adequate scrubbing -- the germs left over under the black light were noticeably more.

We also used the Glo Germ to visualize how quickly germs move from hard surfaces like door knobs and cell phone screens, onto our hands or face.

“Think of how many times people are coming in and out of that door and touching the handle. Nobody’s really cleaning that handle," said Dr. Stein.

As an added layer of germ protection, Dr, Stein said you can carry Clorox or Lysol wipes with you to clean common surfaces you're in contact with; like a shopping cart, the treadmill at the gym, or an airplane tray table. However, be sure to read the directions based on the wipe's brand, as different brands require different dry times or levels of wetness for the best result.

To learn more about the science behind hand washing, click here.