The best go-to method for reducing your risk of infection is to wash your hands. Next time you reach for the soap, here is some news you can use.

For years, soaps and healthcare products touted their “antibacterial” properties. While soap was good, antibacterial soap had to better, and while you are at it, antimicrobial socks could help your feet stink less. Better living through chemicals never seemed so easy.

The evidence is mounting that antibacterial and antimicrobial products may not be doing us any favors — in fact — they could be contributing to the problem with multi-drug resistant bacteria. How? First, let’s look at why we wash our hands in the first place.

Want to Get Sick Less? Wash Your Hands

Your hands, as clean as they look, are covered with microbes, some of them good, some of them, not-so-good. In fact, your hands have their own “microbiota,” a teeming residential community of microbes that live on your skin. On each square centimeter of skin, you are looking at about 1,500 bacteria. Some are permanent residents; some are just passing through.

The largest community of bacteria on your hands are from the group Staphylococcus. Unless they enter a wound, these bacteria are usually harmless. They also function to crowd out dangerous bacteria and reduce inflammation caused through injury and those previously mentioned bad actor bugs.

When you wash your hands, the goal is to get off the dirt and dangerous bacteria. Soap has properties that loosen soil, and microbes in that soil, and on your hands. Using soap also ensures that you are washing your hands for a longer period. As you wash your hands, dangerous germs go bye-bye. Here are some tips:

  • Wash your hands in running water. Most people do. As your hands become wet, turn off the faucet and apply soap, to save water and help you wash longer.
  • Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice through and rub your hands together, between fingers, and the backs of your hands. Microbes are everywhere (especially under your fingernails), and when you rub, you do a better job dislodging them.
  • When done, dry your hands with a clean towel at home, or a paper towel in a restroom. Bathrooms are microbial wonderlands, and using an air dryerdisperses airborne germs, whereas paper towels dispense virtually none when they’re in the trash.

While washing your hands does not leave your hands sterile, it reduces the bioload to a manageable level if you want to eat food, or avoid passing germs to others. So what happens when you use antimicrobial products?

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