The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Get Germs Off Your Hands

Good news–a three-step technique that takes 15 seconds works as well to get germs off hands as a 30-second six-step hand sanitizer routine.

To keep infections from spreading in health care facilities, health care workers must get germs off their hands effectively. The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that hand sanitizer is better than hand-washing because it is faster and more effective at removing germs.

Using Hand Sanitizer to Get Germs Off Hands:

How do you apply hand sanitizer? The WHO has developed a six-step 30-second procedure that it recommends for health care workers. But a study conducted in Switzerland suggests that all six steps may not be necessary. 

The WHO technique starts with a palm full of alcohol-based sanitizer. Then the individual rubs the hands palm to palm. After that, the person places the right hand over the left and interlaces the fingers, then switches. Then he or she rubs the palms together with the fingers interlaced. After that, the worker scrubs the back of each hand against the opposing palm and covers both thumbs in sanitizer. There’s little doubt this should be a good way to get germs off, but people don’t always take the time to follow these steps exactly.

Can You Use a Less Complex Technique for Removing Germs?

The researchers, led by Dr. Sarah Tschudin-Sutter of University Hospital Basel in Switzerland, compared four hand sanitizing techniques in 20 volunteers. One group followed the WHO recommendations, with a 30 second process. A second group followed a similar procedure but for only 15 seconds. The third and fourth groups followed a simpler three-step procedure for 30 and 15 seconds respectively. Fifteen seconds proved just as good at reducing bacterial counts on the hands as 30 seconds, and the simplified procedure worked to get germs off as well as the six-step one.

The investigators reported these results at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in Amsterdam on April 15, 2019.

Rate this article
3.8- 38 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Get the latest health news right in your inbox

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

Screenshots of The People's Pharmacy website on mobile devices of various sizes
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 27 comments
Add your comment

I’m really surprised no one brought up that we NEED GERMS to be healthy.

People are so concerned with killing germs.

I’m certain circumstances I agree, wash your hands. I never ever use hand sanitizer, and being OCD, I can really get down with some washing my hands all the time stuff. I can wash up to 50x a day — but you know what? It’s silliness. The average American washes their hands 8x a day. Dirty people. (Hahaha just kidding!)

In any case, People’s Pharmacy just did an article that showed that hand washing did not actually stop the spread of flu, which I think is the number 1 killer of humans ever — by far and away. The article said you have to get a specific kind of mask.

In any case, let’s not get all crazy about washing. Go play in the dirt.

I just saw an article that said the best thing you can do for your health is to eat dirt….. but I’m not quite there yet. :)

I am interested in the ZooNo. I have a lot of problems with eczema on my hands which is made worse with multiple applications of hand sanitizer or even repeated washing with soap and water. I try to use gloves but they aren’t always available.

When I was volunteering as a patient advocate at a hospital where I used to live, we had a training session on best practices for preventing the spread of germs, which included effective hand-washing. The nurse-educator who taught the class stressed that friction was an important element in killing germs, in conjunction with antibacterial soaps or sanitizer gels. What’s described in the article — rubbing palms, back of hands, and then interlacing fingers — are the exact steps she taught us.

From the time I was a small child, my mother (a nurse) said to wash my hands from the elbows down to finger tips while singing the ABC song, twice. The last line changes from “Now I know my ABC’s” to “Now I know my hands are clean.” Genius for a small child or not so small senior.

As with many of your articles, this one actually makes you more confused on topics that you didn’t even know you were confused about before you read them!

What about the thought that hand sanitizer “weakens immunity” to germs? This is a hot topic when talking about the use of hand sanitizer. Some researchers say that frequent use of hand sanitizer will cause a resistance to both good and bad bacteria, which could hurt your immune system in fighting off infections. The Food and Drug Administration acknowledges this data and stresses that hand sanitizer is not a replacement for frequent hand washing.” ?

Use of hand sanitizers is recommended by the WHO while our archaic FDA wants to eliminate such and “just wash your hands.” How ludicrous. Once again it emphasizes the ridiculous out of touch appointees that make unattainable recs for us. There are virtually no antibacterial soaps available to the general public, “just wash your Hands.” JMHO.

I guess you just rub the alcohol-based hand sanitizer all over your hands for 15 seconds. If you sing “Happy Birthday To You” while doing it, in the usual tempo, that’s about 15 seconds! I timed it – ha-ha-ha!

How can you write such an interesting article which leads up to a 3 step simplified procedure for washing your hands well, then never tell what that 15 second procedure is?

I was in my daughter’s room in the hospital after she had had major surgery. Her cardiologist came in, grabbed a glove (not a pair) from the dispenser on the wall and proceeded to check on her. He never put the glove on and never washed his hands (obviously not a fan of hand sanitizer since he didn’t use that either). This is the first time I’ve heard about the WHO technique. I don’t use such a complicated technique, but I was really interested in the shorter simpler method. I’m still interested but uninformed about how to do it. ???

I’m guessing that it is the procedure described in the 30 second routine but conducted in 15 seconds.

Why is it important to take Rs meds at a designated time of Day? What difference does it make if your cholestero-loweringl medicine is taken at bedtime or your hypertension lowering meds are taken in the AM?
I am 89 years old and take all my prescribed meds at midday which is AM because that is the end of my required 8 hours sleep time. I forget to take my PM meds. ;therefore I decided that as long as I take them and the medicine is in my system, the time of day should not make a difference.

I also want to know what is the simpler procedure??????

And the shorter process is …???

What is the 15 second procedure that has been proven effective??
Article doesn’t share this info!!

Yes, where is the description of the technique? The article is relatively useless without it. (And video demonstration would be even more helpful!)

I’ve always done this: Rub palms together up & down with fingers interlaced, rub both hands around each other from wrist to fingertips, rub palm on back of opposite hand with fingers interlaced, interlace thumbs at base and go around a few times, and rub each hand around opposite wrist. Getting between fingers seems most important to me.

I, too, would like to know the less complex procedure.

What a worthless article.

What Harold and Valerie said.

Is either demonstrably better than soap and water?

Interesting, but you didn’t describe the “Less Complex Technique for Removing Germs”?

There is a new antibiotic hand sanitizer gel on the market that claims 24-hour effectiveness after application. It is called ZooNo and they claim that for 24 hours, the gel is effective in killing most germs that are encountered, as opposed to standard gels which only kill germs upon application as the gel dries. (Once standard gels are dry there is little or no protection against germs, so reapplications are necessary throughout the day.) ZooNo, if effective, is a significant step up for hand sanitizers. It is more expensive than standard gels, and is available in small or medium-sized aerosol containers. But if it protects you from germs for 24 hours, it will be a real advance in hand hygiene. It’s available through drug stores, and Amazon (of course). I’m currently using it, but have no way of testing to see how well it works. Thought I’d give you folks a heads up on this new product.

It contains benzalkonium chloride. Here is research showing that its antibacterial activity persists:

Did I miss something as the article does not appear to explain what the 15 second technique actually is! What a useless and ridiculous article. At least have a link to a website that explains how to sanitize your hands in 15 seconds

We have asked the lead researcher to explain the shorter technique.

So, what is the simplified procedure??

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^