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Do You Really Need to Wash Your Hands for 20 Seconds?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 16, 2024
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For months, public health authorities around the world have been instructing us to wash our hands to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Chances are, you've seen posters specifying 20 seconds as the amount of time you should spend at the sink.

But why 20 seconds? And is it really necessary to spend that long washing your hands? According to new research published last month in the journal Physics of Fluid, the answer to the second question is a resounding "yes." Using mathematical modeling, the researchers determined that 20 seconds is required to dislodge the viral and bacterial particles that are attracted to our hands. Furthermore, moving your hands more vigorously provides the right amount of force to allow particles to escape into the running water.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has long recommended washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, but their recommendation was based on the link between how many microbes remain on your hands and how long you spend washing them. In contrast, this study used physics to examine how much energy is needed to overcome the attractive forces keeping germs on our hands.

Don't forget to wash your hands!

  • Interestingly enough, the study did not account for using soap, which plays a dual role in helping remove viral and bacterial particles, and also destroying their outer membranes.

  • The CDC recommends singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice in order to reach the 20 second mark.

  • According to the CDC, hand washing with soap could reduce the number of people getting sick with diarrhea by up to 40%.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman , Writer and editor
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.

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Margaret Lipman

Margaret Lipman

Writer and editor

With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
Learn more
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