Adult washing hands with a thick lather of soap above a white sink with a white soap dispenser.

If everyone on the planet routinely washed their hands, researchers estimate that 1 million deaths could be prevented each year. Now, not everyone has access to soap and clean water, but for those of us who do, it could be the single most important step we take towards a healthier world.

National Handwashing Awareness Week, observed from December 5th to 11th, is a perfect time to learn more about the significance of hand hygiene not just as a routine but as a shield against potential health threats. Join UAB Medical West as we explore the art of washing hands, the recommended duration, and the consequences of neglecting this simple yet powerful practice.

How to Wash Your Hands Properly - More Than Just a Splash

Handwashing is often viewed as a boring task, but its impact on health is monumental. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proper technique involves five essential steps: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry. Let's break down the process to ensure optimal hand hygiene:

  • Wet: Begin by wetting your hands with clean, running water—warm or cold both work equally well.
  • Lather: Apply a sufficient amount of soap to create a rich lather. Ensure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub: Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song twice to keep track.
  • Rinse: Thoroughly rinse your hands under clean, running water to wash away the soap and any lingering germs.
  • Dry: Use a clean towel or air dryer to dry your hands completely.

How Long Should You Wash Your Hands?

The answer to this common question is clear: at least 20 seconds. This simple yet effective rule ensures that you eliminate harmful microorganisms that may be lurking on your skin.

Imagine the impact of these 20 seconds on your health and the well-being of those around you. It's a small investment with vast returns, especially during the holiday season when gatherings and festivities increase the risk of germ transmission.

What Happens When You Don't Wash Your Hands

Neglecting hand hygiene can have severe consequences, far beyond the inconvenience of a common cold. Your hands are the primary vehicle for the transfer of germs, viruses, and bacteria. Washing them regularly can boost your immune system and protect those around you. Here are some of the negative impacts of not washing your hands:

Spread of Illness

Unwashed hands become breeding grounds for viruses such as the flu, Covid-19, and the common cold. Touching your face or interacting with others can lead to the swift transmission of these illnesses. If you do experience an illness this winter, find a UAB Medical West location near you.

Food Contamination

Inadequate hand hygiene poses a threat in the kitchen. Handling food without washing your hands can result in the transfer of harmful bacteria, leading to foodborne illnesses. This goes for restaurants as well as in your home kitchen.

Community Outbreaks

During the holiday season, we come together with friends and family. Neglecting hand hygiene in crowded spaces can contribute to the rapid spread of infections, impacting the ones we love most.


Severe cases of common illnesses can lead to hospitalization, putting a strain on healthcare resources and potentially compromising your health and that of others. Hand washing is the most important thing you can do to protect the health of others.

Hand Hygiene: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

As we embrace the spirit of giving during the holidays, consider the gift of health through proper hand hygiene. UAB Medical West encourages everyone to make handwashing a habit, not just during National Handwashing Awareness Week but throughout the year. It's a simple yet powerful act that contributes to the overall well-being of our community.

How to Make Handwashing a Habit

As we go through the course of our busy lives, it can be extremely easy to forget about hand hygiene completely. But something as simple as a trip to the store can expose our hands to millions of potentially dangerous germs. Making a habit of washing your hands is paramount to fighting illness and remaining your healthiest, happiest self.

  • Set Reminders: In the hustle and bustle of the season, it's easy to forget. Set reminders on your phone or use cues in your daily routine to prompt you to wash your hands.
  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate good hand hygiene to your friends and family, especially the younger members. Children learn by observing, and your actions can shape lifelong habits.
  • Keep Supplies Handy: Ensure that soap, water, and hand sanitizer are readily available at home and in public spaces. Convenience increases the likelihood of compliance.
  • Educate Others: Share the knowledge about hand hygiene and its importance with those around you. The more people understand, the stronger the defense against the spread of illness.

A Healthy Holiday Gift to Birmingham from UAB Medical West

As we celebrate National Handwashing Awareness Week, let's embrace the power of clean hands. UAB Medical West is committed to fostering a culture of health and wellness in Birmingham. By making hand hygiene a priority, we not only protect ourselves but also contribute to the health and vitality of our vibrant community.

This holiday season, let the spirit of caring extend to the simple yet impactful act of handwashing. It's a gift you can give to yourself, your loved ones, and the entire city of Birmingham—a gift that keeps on giving well beyond the festivities. Together, let's make hand hygiene a tradition worth celebrating every day.

Stay Healthy Through the Holidays with UAB Medical West

Don’t let an illness keep you from enjoying the most wonderful time of the year. Now is a great time to schedule an appointment with your doctor at UAB Medical West. Make sure you are up to date on your immunizations and discuss ways to stay healthy through the winter. Call us at (205) 481-7000 or contact us online to schedule an appointment today.