8 Hand-Washing Mistakes You're Probably Making & How to Wash Your Hands Properly
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8 Hand-Washing Mistakes You're Probably Making & How to Wash Your Hands Properly

Dr. Josh Axe — Food is Medicine
Mar 1, 2018

When one woman's gross hand dryer experiment went viral on Facebook, it got me thinking of the most effective ways to keep our hands clean.

[Food is Medicine] I'm sure you've never wondered about how to wash your hands; it seems instinctual, but a person's typical hand washing routine typically includes a number of pitfalls. (Photo Credit: Dr. Josh Axe/ Food is Medicine)

How you wash your hands could mean the difference between flu prevention and catching the dreaded virus. Like I always say, the best flu natural remedy is avoiding the illness altogether. So, here's how to practice correct hand washing to truly keep germs at bay. Bonus? No toxic chemicals required.

How Does Hand-Washing Even Work?

While we wash our hands every single day, multiple times a day (or at least I hope you do!), the science of hand-washing probably isn't at the forefront of your mind. The purpose of washing hands is to rid the hands of pathogens, including disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

Hand washing is said to help minimize the spread of influenza, prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and more. The benefits of hand washing are so great that Geert Cappelaere, a UNICEF Representative in Sudan, said, "turning ‘handwashing' with soap before eating and after using the toilet into an ingrained habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, cutting deaths from diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter." (1)

The effectiveness of your hand-washing depends on whether you use soap, what type of soap you use, the temperature of your water, how long you scrub your hands, how vigorously you scrub your hands and how you dry your hands. Ready to learn about the best science-backed ways to practice hand washing? (And how to avoid the biggest hand-washing mistakes?) Let's go!

Top 8 Hand-Washing Mistakes

Thought you knew how to wash your hands? Turns out you may be making some seriously common mistakes, leaving your hands more germ-laden than before you picked up that bar of soap. Here are some common hand-washing pitfalls (and how to avoid them). 

1. You're using antibacterial soap.

Some antibacterial chemicals are a sham. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn't sufficient evidence to conclude antibacterial soaps better prevent illness than washing with plain soap and water. Nonetheless, many families mistakenly reach for these soaps in an attempt to keep their families safe. These products are no more effective than regular soap. Worse yet, the use of these antibacterial products over a long period of time is linked to negative effects. (2) (Photo Credit: Max Pixel)

The FDA has taken some action against ingredients in antibiotic soaps. In September 2016, it banned triclosan and 18 other antibacterial soap ingredients. While this was a necessary and promising decision, not all of the ingredients left in antibacterial soap are innocent. Antibacterial chemicals, including benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol, are still allowed in over-the-counter soaps.


According to Environmental Working Group's Skin-Deep Database, benzethonium chloride poses low health hazards; however, the site points out a large data gap: There's not enough research to deem it either safe or dangerous. We just don't know. (3)

Benzalkonium Chloride

Benzalkonium chloride is linked to allergy problems in humans, including severe skin, eye and respiratory irritation, posing a moderate risk. (4)


Chloroxylenol also poses a risk for skin, eye and lung irritation. (5) Not to mention antibiotic ingredients commonly used in soap contribute to antibiotic resistance. The more we expose germs to germ-fighting chemicals, the better they adapt and outsmart us.

So what should you use instead? My personal preference is castile soap. Castile soap is made from oils such as coconut, olive and hemp oils. It can also be made with avocado, almond and walnut oils. Free of chemicals and vegan, castile soap is made with pure ingredients I trust. When possible, opt for an organic, fair trade brand.

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