The surprising truth about washing your hands with cold water

Washing your hands with cool or cold water may be more effective than you think. A 2017 study in the Journal of Food Protection found that the temperature of the water was not the biggest factor in killing germs on the hands of volunteers, but instead there was a stronger effect created by lather time — that means soap, soap, soap. To be noted, this study used antimicrobial soap and tested their experiment for the effectiveness of killing the E. Coli bacteria on a small sample of 20 people. This study should not be used to make decisions during the COVID-19 outbreak, as it recommended only 10 seconds of hand washingThe study does, however, seem to back up another 2013 study listed on the CDC website and currently on PubMed, noting that temperature is not the main factor in cleaning effectiveness.

So, surprise! Studies show that if you are out of hot water, cold water can still help to effectively clean hands. 

Water temperature matters less than time or technique

Extra hot water may be more effective at killing bad germs, but it’s also very difficult to wash your hands in water hot enough to make that difference. It is recommend that you follow the 2020 CDC guidelines for proper hand washing to prevent the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, as well as to protect you from other germs and bacteria: Use running water (not still water if at all possible). Wet hand and lather with soap. Regular soap will do fine, as the Centers for Disease Control don’t currently have any data showing antibacterial soaps are more effective. To combat the highly contagious coronavirus, make sure you scrub for at least 20 seconds and wash your hands often.

If for some reason you don’t have soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is your next best choice. And remember, any efforts at improving hand hygiene and social distancing can help. It’s our individual efforts that will make the difference.

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