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Hand-Washing 101

Associate editor Jocelyn Stone has become slightly obsessed with the most effective way to clean and dry her hands.

I’m pretty sure that my coworkers must think that I’ve gone a bit overboard on cleanliness: Over the last month, I’ve found two different tips for washing your hands that have become a big part of my daily life.

Before a few weeks ago, I can’t really say that I thought about hand-washing one way or another. It was just something you did when your hands get dirty. But for some reason, the universe has decided that either I need to know how to wash my hands better or I need to tell others how to do it better. I’m not really one to ignore what fate throws my way, so here we go:

On March 4, a reader left a comment on our “The Truth About Antibacterial Soap” saying that people wouldn’t need so many antibacterial products if we just washed our hands thoroughly. She said she had heard that a good rule of thumb is to sing the alphabet song (you know: “Now I know my ABCs . . .”). By the time you’ve finished the song, your hands should be clean. At the time I didn’t really think anything of it. It was an interesting tip and that was it. 

Until the next time I washed my hands.

It wasn’t until I was halfway through scrubbing that I realized that I was singing the ABC song as I stood at the sink (in my head, thankfully). Okay, I have nothing against clean hands, but I’m pretty sure that unless you’re under the age of 4 (or 2 or 3?), having the alphabet song running through your head several times a day can get annoying.

But I couldn’t help it — I continued to sing it every time I washed my hands. For days. In fact, it wasn’t until I was on vacation last week that the song left my head. Until I was telling my next story to my coworker and she reminded me of this story. And now the song is back in my head every time I wash my hands (thanks a lot, Courtney). 

Fast forward to last Sunday, where I’m spending a lazy day on the couch watching TED talks on Netflix, and I come across one titled “How to Use One Paper Towel.” I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a paper towel expert, but I figure that I have the basic principles down pretty well. But the video is less than five minutes long, so I figure, why not?

In the presentation, Joe Smith, a former district attorney in Oregon, shares how many pounds of paper towels are used each year (13 billion) and how many pounds we could save (571,230) if people consciously reduced the number of paper towels they use every day. And, really, think about how many times you’ve grabbed two, three, maybe even four paper towels and still haven’t gotten your hands completely dry.

So Smith teaches a technique (I’ll let Smith show you himself below, but let’s just say that it involves a “shake” and “fold” process) where you can get your hands completely dry with just one paper towel. Hmm. I think you can probably see where this story is heading.

Monday morning, I find myself in front of a sink with clean, wet hands and a paper towel, and it’s time to put the rubber to the road. I try Smith’s technique, and, as promised, my hand are the driest they’ve ever been using a paper towel.

I’m not sure why, but this is a game-changer for me — I’m thoroughly obsessed! I have this constant urge to go wash (and dry) my hands even when they already clean. But I don’t, because that would defeat Smith’s purpose for teaching us how to use a paper towel in the first place. And I have work to get done. But I assure you, at the risk of oversharing, going to the bathroom is now one of my favorite things to do during the day.

And should you ever meet me coming out of a restroom and I offer to shake your hand, don’t be afraid — they’re very clean and very dry.

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