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What's The Cleanest Way To Dry Your Hands After Washing Them?

Woman Washing Her Hands in the Bathroom
Image by Milles Studio / Stocksy
March 8, 2020

As cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) climb around the world, people are on high alert looking for ways to protect themselves and avoid germs. One tried-and-true method to help limit the spread of germs is, of course, washing your hands. But we need to talk about drying your hands.

At this point, we're likely all well aware that washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water1 is considered the gold standard. But the last step—drying your freshly washed hands—is all too often overlooked. And as it turns out, drying isn't a step you want to miss.

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The importance of drying completely.

According to one 2018 review in the Journal of Infection Prevention, not drying your hands in a medical setting (either at all or not well enough) is an infection risk, as wet hands increase the chances for cross-infection and environmental contamination2.

That's because the transmission of bacteria, which clings to moisture, is more likely to happen between wet skin than dry3. Drying your hands takes care of the moisture, as well as some of that transference if you're using a paper towel, which will go in the trash.

Not only that, but over-washing (especially with hot water) can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing the skin to dry out and crack. This open skin is then at a greater risk of infection. But one study by Rutgers University from 2017 actually found hot water isn't any more effective in killing germs than cold.

What about air dryers?

Once your hands have been washed, there is a proper way to dry them.

According to the World Health Organization, hands should be dried thoroughly with either a paper towel or a warm air dryer4. But there are studies that suggest hand dryers actually blow germs around, which is why they may be best avoided, especially in settings like hospitals and clinics.

If they're your only option, it's better than nothing to get your hands dry. However, disposable paper towels would seem to be the best bet. (Cloth towels can hold on to germs.)

As we ride out coronavirus, we all want to do our best to stay healthy and germ-free. Washing and drying your hands is an easy way to help yourself out (and those around you). Here's more info on hand sanitizer, how to keep your hands germ-free, and three ways to support your immune system. And don't forget to give your hands a little extra moisture TLC with these hand creams from all that scrubbing.

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