Q: During this coronavirus outbreak, we are encouraged to wash our hands more. Do we use soap? Some soaps are more perfumed. Are they as effective as antibacterial soap? What is the best type to use, and is there a certain temperature to be the most effective?

M.J.

Answer: According to a report from NPR, “you don’t have to be picky about which kind of soap you use. Antibacterial or regular soap — in liquid or bar form — will work.” But you should use enough soap to get a good lather, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. “You can always add a little more soap if needed to make sure you see a healthy crop of bubbles on your hands throughout the 20 seconds. This is a good sign that you have enough lather to break up virus particles.”

WebMD points out that one disadvantage of bar soap is that bacteria could stay on the soap afterward. “If your bar looks slimy, rinse it off under water before you lather your hands, and try to store it so it will dry out between uses.”

Cold, lukewarm or warm water will work fine, but really hot water runs a risk of damaging your skin, and the NPR report points out that “if your hands dry out from using hot water, that could lead to cracks in your skin that expose you to infections.” Also, dry your hands afterward; “rubbing your hands with a paper towel removes even more germs than just washing alone,” WebMD points out. “Dry hands are also less likely to spread contamination than wet hands.”

Soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but an alcohol-based sanitizer that it as least 60% alcohol can be used, though it may not be as effective.

The CDC recommends starting by getting your hands clean with running water; then “Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.” As we mentioned earlier, scrub for at least 20 seconds, or as long as it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

The CDC says it is especially important to wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after food prep
  • Before eating
  • Before and after tending to someone who’s sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or other wound
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After changing diapers or helping a child in the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, or touching pet food or pet waste
  • After touching garbage

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