Handwashing How-To and How-Not-To

And now we come to that time of year where students and teachers dive headlong into those overflowing human petri dishes we call “schools.”

My kids have brought home some real winners through the years. Colds, flus, and stomach bugs, of course.  But then there’s the phalanx of conjunctivitis, strep throat, inexplicable fevers, Hand-Foot-Mouth and Fifth Disease. (Yes, that’s what it’s called.  I’m not kidding.  Look it up.)  Nothing deadly, but certainly unpleasant.

To rehash some old news here, let me remind you that frequent handwashing with regular soap and water is the single best defense against the spread of germs.  The mundane act of handwashing has been making headlines lately because the FDA just banned the ubiquitous ingredient Triclosan in antibacterial soaps. (Soap is all you need anyway.) Which takes us back to my point:

Frequent handwashing with regular soap and water is the single best defense against the spread of germs.


So, when you find your precious littles are catching every passing bug (“But Mommy, I thought you wanted us to share!”) – and before you dose them with latest miracle vitamin – check out how often and how well they are washing their hands.

Four Handwashing Fumbles

The H-2-Onlyimg_3852

Otherwise known as the no-soap wash.  I say “wash” in the loosest sense of the word because this is, in fact, a rinse.  Water alone does not grab germs, and it cannot penetrate grease. The only effect it might possibly have is to knock the dirt off by force.


The Flash Wash


This is the “blink and you might miss it” wash where soap touches the hands for the briefest of moments before getting rinsed off.  Soap needs a few moments to do its job – grabbing dirt, grime, and germs – and it must touch all parts of the hand to do so.


The Finger Free


This one is a toddler specialty, where soap gets rubbed around the palms and maybe the backs of the hands, but not the all-important fingers.  Our fingertips touch surfaces, friends, food and our own mouths, noses, and eyes the most.  Handwashing must include a thorough scrub of the fingers, fingertips, and under the fingernails.  According to the FDA , “The fingernails and surrounding areas are often the most contaminated parts of the hand.


The Why Bother


Even if you wash your hands well, but then touch the faucet, the paper towel lever, the dryer button, the lightswitch, or the door handle, you might as well have licked your hands clean.  Instead, do all this with the back of your hand, your less dominant hand, your least used fingers, your elbow, or with a paper towel in between. Be creative.

In situations with cloth towels, the towel is only as clean as everyone else who has used it. Is it trustworthy?

Here’s a snazzy summary put together by Rachel, one of our awesome graphic designers:


You can even click here for a PRINTABLE  PDF to post at every sink!

Review this with yourself, with your live-withs, your kids, your friends, your friends’ kids, and your kids’ friends.

This may sound like a hassle, but think of all the time, money, and peace of mind you’ll preserve in not missing work, visiting the doctor, caring for the sick, getting sick yourself, cleaning the house extra, completing missed classwork and missed work work.

I can already hear the cherubic voices, “But that’s NO FUN!!” Yeah, well, being sick is even less fun.



34 thoughts on “Handwashing How-To and How-Not-To

  1. Is dr bronners lavender soap, when diluted, antibacterial? And I mean, can I use that as my soap when washing after handling raw chicken and be confident I won’t catch salmonella?

    • Hi Yvette – The term “disinfectant” means that the product must kill 99% of germs. The term “antibacterial” means that the product must kill 99.9% of germs. Dr. Bronner’s soap (Castile soap and Sal Suds) is part of the “disinfectant” category. Soap works by removing. It latches on to dirt, grime, germs, etc. and takes them away. The only thing that kills bacteria is a pesticide, and soap is not a pesticide. That means the short answer is, no, soap will not kill bacteria or anything else. Soap eliminates it, though.

  2. Lisa, fabulous site, thank you!
    I use a lot of homemade skincare, and after applying my very thick and oil-rich body butter, it’s almost impossible to wash my hands using castille soap. No matter how much I use, it forms a thick white scum on my hands. Unfortunately the sugar soap is pricier than our budget can deal with, and doesn’t come in my preferred orange scent.
    Any tips for how to get a better handwash? We’re in a hard water area so I need to add a little bicarb to my shampoo. Would that also work with handwash?

    • Hi Jane – The Castile soap is good at breaking up oils, so try increasing your concentration and/or adding a little bicarb as you suggest. The thick white scum makes me wonder if your skincare product has a lot of acid in it, such as lemon juice, in which case the soap could be becoming unsaponified.

    • Thanks for the reply, Lisa! The main issue seems to be after applying my magnesium body butter. I don’t think there’s anything acidic in it. I’ll try your suggestions – dilute the soap less and add some bicarb.

  3. Hi which Castile soap do you recommend for hand washing? Is it better to delute, it if so with what? Right now I have lavender with distilled water and I think tea tree oil a recipe I found online. But I find it’s too watery.

    • Hi Lizette – All the Castile soaps have the same soap base, but vary only in the essential oil used. So, you can pick the one you like best. I happen to use Citrus most of the time. For pumps, only foaming pumps work well with the castile soap. Dilute at a ratio of 1:3.

  4. Hi there. I am looking to add an essential oil to the baby unscented for my kids hands in a foaming soap dispenser. I have the 3:1 ratio but how much essential oil do you recommend?

    • Hi Kate – As you probably know, essential oils can be pretty potent, and the type of essential oil matters greatly. Start with about 5 drops and see if you like the smell, then increase it to your liking.

  5. Hello! Really great article, tips and comments.

    I have a question about using the Foaming Soap dispensars. I used to use them but found it difficult to clean and disinfect the area just under the pump (the place where you can see the soap/water mix before it comes out of the pump). It can get really funky in there after a while. I’ve tried hot water, alcohol, etc. but the eventually “etch” the plastic housing.

    Here’s my other concern regarding this: on Robert Tisserand’s website, it’s been reported (by Ginger L. More) that once you introduce water to mixtures, microbes supposedly begin to form in the mixtures (whether with liquid soaps, or DIY sprays, etc.).

    If this may be the case, can you recommend some easy-to-clean foaming soap dispensers? I haven’t had success with the different ones I’ve purchased.


    • Hi Dee – I’m glad you found it helpful. I myself am still looking for the foaming pump. Either they seem to break quickly, or they’re uncleanable, as you said. I don’t have a specific recommendation unfortunately.

    • Hi, Lisa.

      Thanks for your reply.

      No problem! If I happen to get lucky and find one that’s good, I’ll try to remember to post it here. 🙂

      Take care!

  6. I have awfully dry and sensitive skin – so I love the castile soap because it’s nice and gentle. But to make it extra moisturising can I add olive (or some other moisturising oil e.g. almond or jojoba) to it? And also use as a body wash?

    • Hi Annika – I get what you’re trying to do, but the problem is that adding oil directly to the soap is going to cause the soap molecules to bond with the oil and have two effects: first, the soap molecules are going to stick to the oil molecules and whisk them off your skin not leaving any behind to moisturize, and secondly, the soap will be so tied up with the oil that it won’t be available to clean the grime off of you. All that being said, many people do this and like it. I’ve also heard of adding coconut milk to the soap. A better bet though is to use our Sugar Soaps which are naturally more moisturizing and fantastic for sensitive skin, or follow up a castile wash with a light moisturizer, such as jojoba, or coconut oil. Our Lavender Coconut lotion makes a great all over moisturizer. You can definitely use any of our soaps for a body wash.

  7. A quick question, should I dilute the soap before frequent hand washing. I work a long day (14-15 hours) and I probably wash my hands 8-10 times throughout.

    • Hi Rolf – You can use a couple drops straight from the bottle or you can dilute it 1:3 in a foaming pump. Whichever works best for you.

  8. Tiny meditations.. because I need to find time to meditate I began a habit that goes back many years. When I wash my hands, I do a lovely meditation that gives me time to be thorough with my Dr.Bronners and always leaves me with a great feeling and a smile. Since I have to do this many times a day, a big plus in my daily state-of-mind! Huge respect for Dr.Bronner’s wonderful hemp oil soap I can easily get at any visit to Trader Joe’s. I’m 69 years old and I do caregiving for an 88-year-old lady who I introduced to the product. Now it’s in dispensers all over her house!

  9. extra dirty hands, a capful of mild topical H202 with 2 drops (yes literally 2 tiny drops) of Bronners rub int to hands before water for 10 seconds then rinse. No need for anti-bacterial agent chemicals EVER.

  10. What about a regular soap recipe for liquid soap in a pump container?

    • Hi Jennifer – Our liquid castile soaps do not work well in regular pump dispensers. They inevitably clog the pump and squirt out sideways in the process. If you want to use a regular pump, choose our Organic Sugar Soaps instead. Or for our liquid castile, use a foaming pump dispenser at a ratio of 1 part soap to 3 parts water.

  11. Does anyone have a soap recipe that can be used in a foaming container by the sink? I am brand new and am in need of some direction. Thank you~!

    • Diluting the soap at a ratio of 1:3 works great for most foaming pumps. Feel free to adjust that to your preferences.

  12. When my girls were little, we turned hand washing into a game. We had bubble contests to see who could make the most bubbles and who could get the bubbles to cover every part of their hands. As they grew up, I often heard other moms comment on how well my girls washed their hands while at their friends’ houses on play dates. I’m not above some good old fashioned mama manipulation!

  13. Thank you! And it wouldn’t hurt to make sure all of the adults are washing their hands properly too.

  14. I highly recommend the World Health Organization poster that shows you how to wash your hands. All you have do is search online for hand washing guide. I custom printed it by enlarging it to 140% and it now fills an 8.5″ by 11″ paper. The pictures are very specific as to how to hold and move your hands to get a thorough washing. Even if children get it only half right it will probably be so much better than what they are doing now.

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