You’re probably washing your hands all wrong. Here's the right way, according to experts.

Korin Miller
Washing your hands the right way for at least 20 seconds can help to prevent the spread of germs and illnesses. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Washing your hands the right way for at least 20 seconds can help to prevent the spread of germs and illnesses. (Photo: Getty Creative)

You’ve been washing your hands your entire life but, odds are, you’re not doing it properly.

“Most people are likely washing their hands for five to 10 seconds, and not sufficiently taking enough time to actually have the cleansing action of the soap,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the John's Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Not only that, most people don’t wash their hands as often as they should, he says.

It seems silly that you’d need a refresher on how to do something you’ve been doing for years, but it’s important to do it right. “Washing your hands properly interrupts the spread of germs, including influenza and the kinds of germs that will cause diarrhea,” says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It’s always a good idea to wash your hands because that helps interrupt the spread of germs from one person to another.”

Does washing your hands the wrong way do anything?

If you wash your hands the right way, you can prevent up to 40 percent of diarrheal illnesses and up to 21 percent of respiratory illnesses like the common cold and the flu, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you do it the wrong way, you’re still getting some benefits, Adalja says. But, if you’re sick or you’ve touch a surface that contains germs and you do a mediocre job of washing your hands, you could still pass those germs on or infect yourself, he explains.

So how are you supposed to wash your hands?

The CDC has detailed instructions on how hand-washing should go.

First, rinse your hands with clean running water, turn off the tap (to save water) and apply soap to your hands. The temperature doesn’t matter, but using warm water is usually better for your comfort. “When people are more comfortable, they’re more likely to wash their hands correctly,” Schaffner says.

Then, rub your hands together to work up a lather, and make sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your fingernails. Lathering helps create friction, and that can help lift up dirt, grease and germs from your skin, Adalja explains.

This is where many people fall short: You should be washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, per CDC guidelines. (Evidence suggests that washing your hands for this time removes more germs from your hands than shorter periods, according to the CDC.) If you need a guide, Schaffner recommends singing the Happy Birthday song to yourself from start to finish twice.

Then, rinse your hands well under clean water, and dry them using a clean towel or air-drying them.

If you’ve been washing your hands differently, that’s okay. “Anything is better than nothing,” Schaffner says. But still, doing it the right way ups the odds you’ll keep yourself — and those around you — healthy.

This article was paid for by Dial® and created by Yahoo Lifestyle’s branded content team. The Yahoo Lifestyle editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.