Every time we touch a surface, we expose ourselves to bacteria. The good news is that it is pretty easy to combat the situation as long as we make sure to wash our hands the right way.

Do: Take Your Time

Quickly running your hands under some water may make them feel clean, but it won’t do much to get rid of the bacteria. Most people should take at least twenty seconds of scrubbing to get the job done. We have found that one of the best ways to keep track of that time is to hum the tune to the “Happy Birthday” song while scrubbing. Humming it twice while you wash your hands will make sure that you wash them thoroughly. Remember to scrub for the whole time while you are washing to make sure that your hands get as clean as possible!

Don’t: Use Hot Water

We run into a lot of people who think that the water needs to be as hot as possible when they wash their hands. Unfortunately, that is an urban legend. Researchers have found that cold water is just as effective as hot water when it comes to removing microbes. Hot water can actually be the worse choice because it is more likely to irritate the skin than cool water. It also has a larger environmental cost because it takes energy to heat the water. That means that the average person will be much better off if they stick to washing their hands under cool tap water.

Do: Scrub Everywhere

Bacteria can thrive in the little nooks and crannies of the hand because most people do not wash those places thoroughly. People often miss the areas between their fingers and under their fingernails when they scrub. Some people also skip over their wrists. Skipping those areas means that the washing process is less effective than it could be, so it is important to make a point of cleaning every inch of the hands. People who often forget to clean certain areas should make a mental checklist of places to cover when they wash their hands. Going down the list in the same order each time will help to turn it into a habit.

Don’t: Lather Under Running Water

It is important to work the soap into a good lather when washing your hands, but many people make the mistake of doing it under the water. That runs the risk of washing the soap off before it can do its job, so it is best avoided. It is better to wet your hands, then pull them out of the water to apply the soap and make the lather. Be sure to turn the water off while you are doing so to prevent waste!

Do: Dry Carefully

Bacteria tends to thrive in moist environments, so drying your hands properly can be just as important as washing them. Be sure to remove all of the moisture after washing. It is better to gently pat your hands with the towel instead of rubbing them, since that reduces the risk of chapped hands. If you are using an air dryer, try to avoid rubbing your hands together because that can help to keep bacteria in place after you wash.

Don’t: Touch the Sink

Washing your hands is a great way to get rid of bacteria, but that only matters if you can avoid exposing yourself to new microbes in the future. Your hands will tend to pick up bacteria over time as you touch the surfaces where they live, but some surfaces are worse than others. Bathrooms tend to be particularly bad, and people often pick up new microbes right after they wash their hands by touching bathroom surfaces. Try to avoid brushing your hand against the sink if you can avoid it, and be sure to cover your hands with a towel or other protective surface when you are turning the water off. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is vital for preserving the benefits of washing your hands.