Handwashing – How to be Clean and Save Green

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated, “Handwashing is like a ‘do it yourself’ vaccine.”


Often labeled as the most important step you can take to prevent sickness in yourself and avoid spreading germs to others, there’s still so much confusion surrounding the process, like what’s the right way to wash your hands? What’s the best product to use? Hot or cold water? When should I wash?


The answers to these questions are important for us all, for different reasons – the right way to wash is essential for health, but the right product to use can also impact your facility’s budget in a substantial way. So let’s demystify this process and make handwashing work like the vaccine it’s meant to be.

The CDC-Approved Process

First up, what’s the right way to wash your hands? The CDC offers this simple process:


  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.handwashing
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to slather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.     
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them (with a High Speed Energy Efficient – HSEE – hand dryer).


It’s that simple: WET, LATHER, SCRUB, RINSE, DRY. Perhaps the most important info to note from a process standpoint that people tend to take shortcuts on is the lathering of the backs of hands, in between fingers, and under nails. Additionally, the 20-second duration is a crucial component.


Take note that cold or warm water are equally effective. In fact, numerous studies have revealed that hot water temps have no impact on pathogen removal whatsoever. On the contrary, microbiological swabbing of hands showed an increase in E.coli and Listeria counts on hands that were washed in basins when very hot water was used. And then there’s all that water that’s wasted while waiting for it to heat up – money down the drain!

Liquid vs. Foam Soaps

Next, what product should I use? Easy. You should use an antibacterial soap, right? Nope. A 2007 study found that when compared to plain soap, antibacterial soap wasn’t more effective at preventing infectious illness symptoms or reducing bacterial levels on hands. And in April 2010, the Food and Drug Administration said it lacked evidence that triclosan, the most common ingredient found in antibacterial soaps, has any benefit over washing with regular soap and water. Newer studies have found that triclosan causes great harm to the environment and may have negative consequences for humans too.


So what should you use? Regular soap. And the real debate in 2016 is whether to use liquid soap or foam soap.


The Benefits of Handwashing with Liquid Soap:

  • Efficient cleaner with proper technique
  • Lowest initial cost
  • No special pumps required
  • Works well for all types of handwashing


The Benefits of Handwashing with Foam Soap:

  • Efficient cleaner with proper technique
  • Pre-lathered soap requires less water for rinsing
  • Reduced maintenance costs – foam eliminates drips, stains, and clogs
  • More handwashes per refill
  • Works well for all types of handwashing


While both soaps can be effective with the proper technique, the choice between liquid and foam is a choice that has to do more with money.


It’s true that liquid soap costs less than foam, initially, and only slightly. But it’s also true that foam soaps yield double the number of handwashes. Therefore, using foam soap produces significant product savings, and if your facility has high restroom traffic, the savings are even more substantial.


The savings don’t end there. Foam soaps require less water. Another way to look at the “foam” soap is that it’s pre-lathered, meaning it doesn’t require the same amount of water to produce the necessary lather. Additionally, foam requires less water to rinse and is not prone to leaving a residue on your hands like its liquid counterpart.handwashing


So you might be asking whether the water savings are worth it. Here are the facts about water today, according to a study by Circle of Blue:


  • The price of water has risen 41% since 2010.
  • Water prices rose faster than any other household staple last year.
  • Water continues to increase significantly faster than inflation
  • The commercial restroom consumes approximately 40% of the building’s water.


And lastly, studies have shown that when compared to liquid soap, users of foam soap saved 10% more water per handwashing. In an era where water has become a real economic concern, foam soap represents just one way to save money at your facility.


Green Certifications for Handwashing

Once you attain the right method for washing, the right temperature, and the right product, arm yourself with the certifications that make a difference to your employees and the waterways the soap will eventually end up in.


These labels signify third-party testing, and they’re what you want on your soaps and cleaners. Each carries rigorous standards, and each certifies that the labeled cleaner remains as effective, if not more so, than its harsh and unhealthy counterpart. Here’s a more detailed explanation of each name:


handwashingEPA DfE – The Design for the Environment label helps consumers and commercial buyers identify products with safer chemical ingredients without sacrificing quality or performance. The name means that every ingredient in the product has been reviewed by EPA scientists and meets the rigorous criteria related to human health and the environment set forth by EPA. More than 2,000 products currently qualify for the label, enabling your company to play a role in workers’ health and protecting the environment.


EcoLogo CertifiedEcoLogo Certification is a multi-attribute certification that speaks to the reduced environmental impact of the products, services, and packaging. This voluntary certification program examines the environmental impact over the entire lifecycle of thehandwashing product and indicates it has been subjected to rigorous scientific testing to demonstrate compliance with tough third-party environmental performance standards. EcoLogo Certification applies to everything from building materials and furniture to cleaning products, paper products, and toys.


handwashingGreen SealGreen Seal Certified products and services enable the consumer to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to health and the environment. The Green Seal mark shows compliance with a strict set of criteria designed to reduce the health and environmental impact of cleaning products and services and are non-toxic. Green Seal products can assist your project team in fulfilling the requirements of various credits across LEED rating systems and provide an integral part of your company’s green cleaning policy.


Biobased ProductsBiobased products are commercial or industrial products that are composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological products or renewablehandwashing agricultural/forestry materials. Biobased products can include solvents and cleaners, paints and coatings, plastics, landscaping materials, fibers, paper, packaging, construction materials, and many more. Substituting biobased products for fossil energy-based products can strengthen an organization’s green purchasing policy and contribute to U.S. energy security.


The number of cleaners utilizing one or more of these labels is staggering and will not limit your options. In fact, these labels will help you to increase occupant comfort in your building and begin to reduce the environmental impact of your facility’s operations.


Improving hand hygiene in your facility can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line. Employees who are at work (instead of home sick) and healthy are far more happy and productive. And using the right product can keep more money in your budget, instead of letting it drip on the countertop or wash down the drain.


*photos courtesy of Foter

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