Why you still need to wash your hands

by BabyYumYum
By embedding handwashing into your daily routine, you significantly reduce the risk of infections and contribute to a healthier environment for everyone, especially young children.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Yes, Covid might seem like a distant memory and perhaps you’re all sanitised out! But there are still pretty good reasons to still keep your hands clean with handwashing as an ingrained habit. By BabyYumYum.

Consider the everyday items you touch: the escalator handrails, your steering wheel, shopping trolleys, office door handles, your laptop, and the worst offender of all—your phone. These objects are teeming with germs. Did you know that germs can survive on your hands for up to three hours? There are between 2 and 10 million bacteria lurking between your fingertips and elbows, and these bacteria can double after using the toilet.

The simple act of handwashing reduces the risk of getting a stomach bug by up to 47% . Plus, frequent handwashing with soap and water can reduce the number of illnesses and infections in children under five by at least 50%, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US. 

According to UNICEF DATA, as of July 2023, approximately 75% of the population in South Africa has access to basic handwashing facilities with soap and water. We all know how many viruses kids pick up at school and creche and handwashing will help to reduce the amount.

If you’re trying to get the kids into the habit, then explain to them in an age appropriate way why it’s important and make it as fun as you can. A reward chart is always a good ideas. You can also buy a special, soft washcloth just for them. Getting a step stool for them will also make it easier. Most important of all is to be the best role model you can be for handwashing as our kids will follow what we do and mimic our behaviour.

Why handwashing matters

Germs can survive on our hands for up to 3 hours, making regular handwashing essential. Proper handwashing significantly reduces the risk of infections. Other benefits include: 

  • Reduces stomach bugs: Regular handwashing can decrease the risk by up to 47%.
  • Protects young children: For children under five, frequent handwashing can decrease illnesses and infections by at least 50% .

Encouraging handwashing in children

To instil the habit of handwashing in children, explain its importance in an age-appropriate way and make the process enjoyable:

  • Use a reward chart: Track and reward consistent handwashing.
  • Special washcloths: Provide a soft, special washcloth just for them.
  • Step stool: Make it easier for them to reach the sink.
  • Be a role model: Demonstrate proper hand hygiene yourself, as children mimic adult behaviour.

Are you washing your hands correctly? Here are some tips on when and how to wash:

When must you wash your hands? 

  • After coughing or sneezing
  • Before and eating a meal or snack
  • After playing with a pet or being outside
  • After coming home from the shops, school, office, etc.
  • After using the bathroom or after a nappy change
  • As your toddler continues to grow, teach proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, as well, such as sneezing into an elbow, covering a cough with a tissue and always washing their hands afterwards.

ALSO READ: My child drank toilet water

How to wash your hands:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold); turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
  6. If soap and water aren’t available, then use a gentle hand sanitiser. Note that sanitisers may not get rid of all types of germs .

Maintaining good hand hygiene is a simple yet effective way to protect yourself and others from illness. By embedding handwashing into your daily routine, you significantly reduce the risk of infections and contribute to a healthier environment for everyone, especially young children. Keep this habit going strong, long after the pandemic, for a lifetime of better health.

READ THIS TOO: Influenza A in the South African context

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) about handwashing: 

Q1. Why do you still need to wash your hands regularly?

A1. Regular handwashing is crucial for preventing the spread of germs and infections. It helps remove dirt, bacteria, and viruses that you may have come into contact with throughout the day, reducing the risk of illnesses such as colds, flu, and foodborne diseases.

Q2. Why does handwashing matter?

A2. Handwashing matters because it is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Proper hand hygiene can significantly reduce the transmission of harmful pathogens, protecting both your health and the health of those around you.

Q3. How can you encourage handwashing in children?

A3. Encouraging handwashing in children can be achieved by making it fun and engaging. Use colourful soap, sing a handwashing song, or set a timer to ensure they wash for at least 20 seconds. Additionally, lead by example and explain the importance of handwashing in simple terms they can understand.

Q4. What are the key times when you should wash your hands?

A4. Key times to wash your hands include before eating or preparing food, after using the toilet, after coughing or sneezing, after touching animals, and after coming into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces or objects.

Q5. What is the proper technique for washing hands?

A5. The proper technique for washing hands involves wetting your hands with clean, running water, applying soap, and lathering by rubbing your hands together. Make sure to scrub all parts of your hands, including the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails, for at least 20 seconds. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a clean towel or air dry.

Q6. Can hand sanitisers replace handwashing?

A6. Hand sanitisers can be a good alternative when soap and water are not available, but they do not remove all types of germs and are less effective on visibly dirty or greasy hands. Washing with soap and water is generally more effective for removing a wide range of pathogens.

Q7. What are the benefits of teaching children proper handwashing techniques?

A7. Teaching children proper handwashing techniques instils good hygiene habits from an early age, reducing the likelihood of them contracting and spreading infections. It also promotes a sense of responsibility for their own health and the health of others.

Q8. How does handwashing impact public health?

A8. Handwashing has a significant impact on public health by reducing the spread of infectious diseases within communities. This simple practice can lower the incidence of illnesses, decrease the burden on healthcare systems, and improve overall public health outcomes.

Q9. What are some creative ways to remind children to wash their hands?

A9. Creative ways to remind children to wash their hands include using stickers or charts to track their handwashing habits, placing fun signs or posters near sinks, and incorporating handwashing into their daily routines with consistent reminders before meals and after bathroom breaks.

Q10. Why is it important to wash hands after touching animals?

A10. It is important to wash hands after touching animals because animals can carry germs that can be harmful to humans. These germs can be transmitted through direct contact with the animal or by touching surfaces that the animal has contaminated. Proper handwashing helps prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases.

By maintaining good hand hygiene, we can protect ourselves and our communities from a range of illnesses and contribute to better public health overall.


(1) Hygiene and Hand Washing Statistics- UNICEF DATA. https://data.unicef.org/topic/water-and-sanitation/hygiene/.
(2) Handwashing data to inform the COVID-19 response. https://data.unicef.org/resources/handwashing-data-covid-19-response/.
(3) 2020 Handwashing Research Summary – The Global Handwashing Partnership. https://globalhandwashing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/GHP-2020-Handwashing-Research-Summary-.pdf
(4) People powered #TippyTapChallenge relaunched to help curb the … – UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/southafrica/press-releases/people-powered-tippytapchallenge-relaunched-help-curb-spread-covid-19-through
(5) COVID-19 pandemic heightens the importance of handwashing with soap – WHO. https://www.afro.who.int/news/covid-19-pandemic-heightens-importance-handwashing-soap
(7) Mbalo Brief – March 2022 | Statistics South Africa. https://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=15233
(8) People with basic handwashing facilities including soap and water. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.HYGN.ZS?locations=za.
(9) STATISTICAL RELEASE – statssa.gov.za. http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0302/P03022021.pdf.

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