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How Often Should You Really Wash Your Hands?

Is once or twice really enough?

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In our everyday lives, we use our hands for a variety of activities, from opening doors to typing on keyboards, turning sink faucets and touching many other objects that could be carrying germs and bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a single gram of human feces can contain one trillion germs — underscoring how important hand-washing is after using the restroom. One of the best ways to protect yourself from catching a cold or the flu is to wash your hands regularly, but how many times should you wash your hands each day?

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According to the CDC, you should be washing your hands often, with the exact number depending on the activities you do throughout the day. If you take out the trash, pick up your pet’s waste or change a diaper, you should wash your hands. You need to wash your hands before, during and after preparing food and definitely before eating.

“Depending on your hand hygiene, you can carry up to millions of bacteria on your hands every day,” Paul Suits, the director of Infection Control at Upstate Medical University, said. “And people tend to forget about their fingernails.”

Throughout the day, you may find yourself washing your hands at least 10 times, depending on what you come in contact with. But touching germy objects is not the only way germs can spread. If you sneeze, blow your nose or cough in your hand, you should use hand sanitizer or wash your hands afterward. When you injure yourself, you need to properly clean your hands before treating any cut or wound, as well as after cleaning the wound.

The way you wash your hands can also help prevent germs from spreading. The CDC suggests first wetting your hands, then turning off the tap and applying soap to remove any dirt from your hands. You should lather your hands very thoroughly by rubbing the soap on the back of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails. This process should last from 15 to 30 seconds — about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Your hands are an easy pathway for bacteria to enter your body through your eyes, mouth or other areas. Prevent illness by washing them often, and if you do feel like you’re getting sick, check out the early signs you’re catching a cold.