The Hygiene Hypothesis
Hand Washing Helps
So exactly how clean is too clean? And how can we really protect our children without keeping them and ourselves quarantined? Believe it or not, the simple answer is what our mothers in the “pre-antibacterial everything” age told us: wash your hands. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about one in three people don’t wash their hands after using the restroom—yet it considers hand washing with just plain soap and warm water vital in thwarting the spread of disease. We all know most germs use our hands as a practical germ train right into our eyes, noses, and mouths. Therefore, ensuring that everyone in your home washes his or her hands before and after eating, after using the restroom and/or changing diapers, after petting animals, and after sneezing, blowing noses, and coughing will help curtail the spread of infectious disease.
Here are some simple steps from the CDC and the American Society for Microbiology for scrubbing those germs away. Demonstrate this routine to your child—or better yet, wash your hands together with your child several times a day so he or she learns how important this good habit is.
- Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply regular liquid or clean bar soap—antibacterial soap isn’t necessary. Lather well.
- Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 10 to 15 seconds. Make sure you wash the backs of the hands, the wrists, in between the fingers, and under the fingernails where germs are common.
- Rinse well.
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.
If you’re in a public bathroom, leave the water running when you’re finished rinsing. After your hands are dry, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.
To minimize the germs passed around your family, make frequent hand washing a rule for everyone, especially:
- before eating and cooking
- after using the bathroom
- after cleaning around the house
- after touching animals, including family pets
- after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives
- after blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
- after being outside (playing, doing yard work, walking the dog, etc.)
Tips for Making Hand Washing Fun
- Put a stool at the sink. Your little ones are much more likely to enjoy washing their hands if they can reach the water faucet on their own.
- Use fun, colorful soaps of different shapes and textures made especially for kids. (Try to avoid products with “fragrance” in the list as they may contain phthalates; look for essential oils to provide scent instead.) Many brands now feature favorite cartoon characters that are sure to transform even the most reluctant dirt mongers into little hand washing aficionados! (If you can’t find a non-antibacterial soap in a fun dispenser, empty the antibacterial soap dispenser and fill it with ordinary soap.) Make it a theme event with a matching character towel that’s washed often to make the ritual worth your while.
- Sing a favorite song with your child or make one up together to ensure he or she is washing long enough to do away with those pesky germs. This is a perfect time to practice the alphabet and counting too!
- When all else fails, buy a colorful egg timer to place by every sink in the house, set it to 15 seconds, and let the washing begin. No splashing!
While we all want to keep the toxic muck levels way down in our homes, a little dust, pet hair, and soil from the garden is highly unlikely to make our children sick. In fact, it might help them stay well! So rather than sacrificing the joys of childhood, perhaps relaxing a bit on the daily chores can help our children slowly and healthfully build up their immunities. Imagine that—kids who run barefoot in the grass, track sand and dirt into a reasonably clean house, and kiss and snuggle with their dander-ridden pets can go on to lead healthy lives. Join them! Delay the dusting, go outside and run and play with your children. Years from now, your children will remember you for the fun times you had together rather than the sterility of your house!
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