CLEVELAND – December 5 marks the start of National Handwashing Awareness Week, which is a time set aside each year to remind people about the importance of good hand hygiene.

“Hand washing is really the heart and soul of keeping yourself and others safe and free from infections during the cold and flu season,” said Donald Ford, MD, chair of family medicine for Cleveland Clinic. “That has been the case for years. So even before there was such a thing as COVID-19, we always encouraged people to wash their hands.”

Dr. Ford said if you don’t wash your hands, you could spread germs to other people, surfaces and even food and drinks. According to the CDC, washing hands can help reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16 to 21%.

So what’s the best technique when it comes to washing your hands? The first step, get your hands wet and then lather with soap. Be sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds. Finally, rinse your hands with warm water and dry them with a clean towel.

Another tip, pay extra attention to your nail beds.

“The bed of the nail is often where the germs can sit. So if you just do the surface of your hands, you’ll be clean but you’ll have bacteria and other germs around the back of your hands,” Dr. Ford explained.

Don’t forget to keep some lotion nearby, too. It’s very easy to dry out your hands if you’re regularly washing them.