Five times…really?

Advice in a publication that reaches thousands of households has sent me to the keyboard. It was this: The single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands with soap and water at least five times per day.

“Five times per day?” I read aloud. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

My husband, in the midst of a winter cold harrumphed, “Fifty’s more like it!”

Tell five times per day to a mom with two children under the age of four who has wiped two noses and two bums before she has sipped her first morning coffee. “That’s ridiculous!” she’ll say. “We’d all be sick, all the time!”

Wash your hands at least five times per day? Really?

I’d suggest that if you’re preparing food, wash your hands

About to eat? Wash your hands.

Blown your nose? Wash your hands.

Wiped your bum? Wash your hands.

Wiped someone else’s nose or bum? Wash your hands.

For a single, healthy individual who eats three squares a day and who toilets five times per day that’s eleven handwashings.  If we give this person a winter cold which necessitates nose blowing every half-hour then add thirty handwashings. That brings us to a low estimate of eleven handwashings or  six more than the recommended “at least five,” and a high of forty-one, or just nine handwashings shy of my ailing husband’s estimate.  Which just goes to show that any number as a recommendation for hand-washing frequency is meaningless.

Let the situation be your guide. So at the very least…wash your hands BEFORE preparing and eating food, and wash your hands AFTER wiping any nose or bum.*
2018 Wash your hands

And if you still want to talk numbers, then count out twenty seconds the next time you wash your hands. That’s about how long it should take you to hum the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end, TWICE.

* For more indications see When & How to Wash Your Hands.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 


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  1. maryhouston2013

    That’s why my poor hands get all dried up. Hand washing so much. Then you use lotion to help the hands but I have a sneaky suspicion that the lotioned hands probably gather more germs! Ah winter……

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