Hand washing 101: What your kids need to learn before returning to the classroom

Returning to school means kids will be around larger groups of people and in new environments, which can make for ripe conditions to spread germs. Physicians want kids to stay healthy this school year and encourage parents to remind their kids about proper hand washing.

“Hand washing can be the first line of defense against getting sick. Teaching kids proper hand washing techniques and reminding them to wash their hands often can help keep them out of the doctor’s office,” reminds Patrick Hayes, M.D., a primary care physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group – Memorial City

When talking about proper hand washing technique with your children, Dr. Hayes has some easy to remember tips.

  1. Use Soap. It may seem like a no-brainer, but only using water won’t cut it. You must use soap. Also, make sure you use enough soap to get a good lather.
  2. Be thorough. Don’t do a quick hand rub and rinse. Take the time to scrub between your fingers, the backs of your hands, and your palms.
  3. Wash your hands for the appropriate amount of time. It should take about 20 seconds to wash your hands. When talking to kids, I often encourage them to sing the “Birthday Song” twice before rinsing their hands.
  4. Wash your hands often. We often think about washing our hands before touching food and after using the restroom. However, kids also come into contact with a variety of people and objects at school. Encourage them to wash their hands after recess or play time as well.

Dr. Hayes also advises against relying solely on hand sanitizer.

“Hand sanitizer can be great if you don’t have access to soap and clean water, but it may not be as effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy,” says Dr. Hayes.

If you choose to use hand sanitizer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Finally, Dr. Hayes encourages kids to maintain other good habits, like using a clean napkin or tissue when they touch their face.

“Using a napkin or tissue when touching your face will not only help keep your hands clean, but it also provides another barrier for germs trying to get in your body,” advises Dr. Hayes.


If you or your child does get sick,  we can help.  Memorial Hermann Medical Group provides primary care for thousands of Houston-area families. We are a collaborative group of highly qualified healthcare providers practicing evidence-based medicine in more than 60 locations throughout the Greater Houston area. Our primary care physicians and advanced practice providers work together with our specialists to keep you and your family healthy. Schedule an appointment online or by calling 713.222.CARE.

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Tashika Varma