The Science of Hand Washing


For parents or educators working with young children can easily rely on a pretty high degree of automatic, unquestioning obedience. So, “wash your hands properly,” is largely accepted at face value and children will pay adequate attention to the instructions on how to do so. After that, it’s largely a matter of constant repetition to get them to build a sound and effective habit.

However, sadly, we all know that a very unhealthy proportion of adults don’t practice good and effective handwashing habits, even after they’ve used the toilet. We’ve all had the experience of not wanting to touch door handles etc. after witnessing the numbers of people moving out from public toilets in restaurants, bars etc either without washing their hands or after the most cursory flick under a tap without soap.

So, we know that the good intentions and the efforts taken with young childrren wear off and the habits get dropped somewhere along the way. Mostly, this seems to be when they reach later childhood, when nobody is telling them or reminding them any more and their distracted minds are on so many things that seem so much more important.

One of the challenges is that, like getting people to wear face masks, the reason or the “why” is probably more about our duty of protection towards others, rather than keeping ourselves safe. The key lies in that “why.” My suspicion is that if you were to ask most adults why they are supposed to wash their hands properly with soap and water, especially during this time of coronavirus pandemic, their answer would be some vague one about killing germs, washing away dirt and safety.

This is where I believe this short video by Ted Ed is so valuable and important (for adults as well as older students). It provides an in depth, but very understandable, science lesson on the process of hand washing, what it achieves and why it’s important. It also fits in as well an explanation of the different process that happens when using hand santizers. After seeing this, all would understand why the quick flash of the hands under a running water tap isn’t enough.

Well worth sharing and I encourage teachers to find a way to slip it in to lessons in the coming days. Especially with older students – “do it because we say so.” is very poor and ineffective. Until now, many teachers might have struggled to give better, more scientific explanation of why it matters. This video does the job.

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