Medical Misconception: Handwashing

Each month we set the facts straight regarding a popular health and wellness myth.

This month’s misconception: Warm or hot water is the best to use when washing hands

When it’s time to wash your hands do you automatically reach to turn on the hot water? Several studies have shown the temperature of the water doesn’t matter when it comes to handwashing.

The latest, recently featured in the Journal of Food Protection, studied several handwashing variables, including the temperature of the water. According to the study’s abstract, “Water temperature as high as 38°C (100°F) and as low as 15°C (60°F) did not have a significant effect on the reduction of bacteria during hand washing.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is in agreement. In its online handwashing guide, the CDC explains that “the temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.”

Need a refresher on the best way to wash your hands? The CDC recommends:

  • Use clean, running water and soap to wash your hands. This includes lathering the soap and scrubbing anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds; don’t forget the backs of your hands, under your nails and between your fingers.
  • Remove the soap with clean, running water and dry your hands with a clean towel or by air drying. Don’t skip the drying process, as germs are more easily transferred to wet hands.

Handwashing is key in reducing the spread of germs and preventing illness, so make sure to scrub up, especially before and after preparing food, before eating food, after using the restroom, and after coughing or sneezing.

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