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Mom tried her best, but there’s an art to washing your hands

Got close to a minute? It's time to

Got close to a minute? It's time to wash your hands. Credit: Dreamstime

OK, people, listen up.

Along with assertions that home computers were a fad, bottled water wouldn’t sell and only at gunpoint would Americans eat kale burgers, the older generation was wrong about something else.

Turns out, we don’t know how to wash our hands.

That’s right. The World Health Organization is promoting a hygiene protocol that makes anything less seem puny.

Based on research by scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, the World Health folks say a new multistep method reduces bacteria in superior fashion to an evidently outdated approach once favored by our own Centers for Disease Control. Improvement is especially important among hospital and health care workers but, say the experts, we can all benefit from more effective scrubbing.

The value of personal cleanliness, in itself, is not big news. Long ago, our mothers hit upon the idea and promoted it zealously.

“You wash?”


“That quick?”

“I’m clean.”

“Get back in there and do it again.”

Of course, those were the days when hand washing likely was not the subject of deep laboratory research by renowned bacteria sleuths. Just as when she told us to stay out of drafts and never swallow chewing gum, Mom, without a degree in public health, knew her stuff.

The old-fashioned regimen was simple and straightforward: run hot water, rub hands with soap, rinse, dry off — with a towel, by the way, and not shirt or trousers.

Now we find Mom’s rules, like the CDC’s, are obsolete — another indication that time is marching on and that Fats Domino is no longer at the top of the charts nor pizza 15 cents a slice.

But enough talk.

To truly appreciate the remarkable breakthrough hailed by the WHO, let’s give the new method a try, shall we?

Ready? At the sink? Here we go.

1) Start by applying soap – liquid, best — to a cupped hand.

2) Rub briskly, palm-to-palm.

3) Place right palm over top of left hand, fingers interlaced. Move back and forth, or up or down, or, really, whatever seems to make sense. So far, so good.

4) Now clasp hands as if in prayer and rub fingers against one another. Amen.

It is important at this point to remain focused. The mind must not wander to the breakup of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne or demise of rotary phones. Resist the temptation to scan any newspaper or magazine that may have been left on the vanity top. We are in the home stretch. Bear down. Let’s bring it on home:

5) Lock fingers, palm to palm, in a kind of coupling maneuver. This may be the most difficult stage of the procedure. Try to remember how your Lionel cattle car hooked to the caboose. Do not lose faith. We have come too far. Yes! You’ve got it. Swivel hands against one another. Sweet.

6) Almost there. Steady as it goes. Grab left thumb with right hand and twist. Do the same in reverse. Stifle the urge to say, “You gotta’ be kidding,” or, “Is it time for lunch, yet?”

7) Make a little fisty-scrunchy sort of thing with one hand and rub the opposite palm, then vice versa.

8) Done. Perfecto! Mission accomplished. Take that staphylococcus epidermidis and all kindred bacteria. To quote the WHO: “Your hands are safe.”

Testers have found that the three-step CDC method — no worries, we’re not getting into it — takes 35 seconds. The WHO alternative requires 42.5. Both far outdistance the old timing regimen which involved singing “Happy Birthday” twice while at the sink. And even then, people cheated. How about you? Tell the truth. Eight seconds? Nine? Shame.

Of course, for older people x-treme washing raises certain concerns. To be blunt, if the exercise takes too long it may, given the realities of age, be necessary — well, to take full advantage of the bathroom and, subsequently, wash again. The exercise could become endless.

But, OK, that’s not likely. And in any case we have to adjust. Learning is a lifetime deal, right? We cannot be sitting around wishing for the return of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers when a rap musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton is knocking ‘em dead on Broadway.

Besides, to tell the truth, I sort of like the WHO’s hand jive, though I often forget a step or two, especially in the middle of the night. The new program is a reminder that if something — anything - is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Mom said that, too.

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