Parkridge Health System - December 01, 2017

Kids don't always listen when parents tell them to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom or when they come inside from playing. But it's a message worth repeating: Handwashing is by far the best way to keep kids from getting sick and to prevent the spread of germs.

How Do Germs Spread?

Germs can spread many ways, including through:

  • changing dirty diapers
  • contact with a sick person's body fluids
  • contact with contaminated surfaces
  • contaminated water and food
  • droplets in the air released by coughing or sneezing
  • touching dirty hands

By simply coming into contact with germs, kids can become infected just by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Once they're infected, it's usually just a matter of time before the whole family comes down with the same illness.

How Do Clean Hands Help Health?

Good hand-washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses – from the common cold to more serious infections, such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, the flu, hepatitis A and many types of diarrhea.

What's the Best Way to Wash Hands?

Here's how to scrub those germs away. Teach this to your kids, or wash your hands together often so they learn how important this good habit is:

  1. Wash your hands in warm water. Make sure the water isn't too hot for little hands.
  2. Use soap and lather up for about 20 seconds. Antibacterial soap isn't necessary – any soap will do.
  3. Make sure you get in between the fingers and under the nails where germs like to hang out. And don't forget the wrists!
  4. Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.

When Should Kids Wash Their Hands?

To stop the spread of germs in your family, make regular handwashing a rule for everyone, especially:

  • After being outside (playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.)
  • After blowing one's nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After cleaning around the house
  • After touching animals, including family pets
  • After using the bathroom
  • Before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives
  • Before eating and cooking

Don't underestimate the power of handwashing! The few seconds you spend at the sink could save you trips to the physician's office.

While good hand hygiene can protect against illness, a primary care physician can be your partner in your family’s year-round health. Use our Find a Doctor tool to find a healthcare teammate.