The Hygiene Rules You Thought You Knew

There's more to it than "lather, rinse, repeat"

Photo: Close-up of washing hands with bar of soap

You wash your hands when they're dirty and cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze. It's not just doing those things regularly that matters, though. It's doing them the right way. Here's a refresher course on the preventive steps you may be missing.

Wash this way
Rubbing your palms together while singing “Happy Birthday” twice isn’t quite enough. According to the World Health Organization's standards on hand washing, there’s a better way. Spend between 40 seconds and one minute at the sink, and follow these simple rules:

  • Don't neglect the tops of your hands, in between your fingers, the tops of your fingers, your fingertips and your thumbs.
  • After applying soap, use your palms to help scrub your fingertips: Place the fingertips of your right hand on your left palm, and rub them in a circular motion. Switch sides after several seconds.

Cover and cough
When a cough or sneeze comes along and you don't have a tissue handy, hold the crook of your arm (the inside of your elbow) up to your mouth instead of your hands. This is sometimes called “the vampire rule” because it's like Dracula covering his face with his cape. The benefits? A study from MIT shows that it's not just fluid you're containing. With every sneeze and cough, you actually emit a gas cloud that can carry germs farther than your immediate vicinity. The inside of your arm is a good line of defense.

Keep contacts fresh
No matter what type of contact lenses, follow this universal rule: Always clean and store them in fresh solution. Topping off old solution in your case exposes your lenses to bacteria from previous wearings.

Keep towels fluffy
A damp towel is ideal for growing mold and mildew. After use, hang bath towels so they can air-dry completely to keep spores at bay. Preventing mold is especially important if someone in the house has allergies, asthma, COPD or another respiratory condition.

Put the top down
Unfriendly germs may be hiding in the same room you keep your toothbrush and toiletries. One study found that flushing with the lid up could spread bacteria through the air. Put the lid down with every flush.