We all learn at a young age that washing our hands is a must. The question is, were we taught the proper way to do it? With flu season underway and family gatherings on the rise for the holidays, it’s especially important to remember this simple and quick task.

“Hand hygiene is the cornerstone of infection prevention. It is the simplest and most effective method to prevent infections,” said Kristofer Harris, MPH, RN, infection control practitioner at UTPhysicians.

The two main ways to perform correct hand hygiene are by washing your hands with soap and water and by using an alcohol-based sanitizer. Anytime your hands are visibly soiled, it’s best to use soap and water. The entire process should take anywhere from 40 to 60 seconds. After applying soap and water, be sure to wash the entire surface of your hands. Common areas that are missed during hand-washing are the thumbs, fingertips, and between fingers. Once your hands are rinsed, use a single-use towel to dry them off and turn off the faucet.

Alcohol-based sanitizers are good to use on the go or when you can’t get to soap and water immediately. “The sanitizer you use should contain at least 60% alcohol to be considered effective. When applying, use enough to cover the hands up the wrist and rub until completely dry,” said Harris.

Without realizing it, people touch their eyes, nose and mouth countless times a day. Unfortunately, our eyes, nose, and mouth are also the main gateway through which germs enter the body. By practicing proper hand hygiene, we can help significantly reduce the risk of illness and successfully make it through the holidays without a trip to the doctor.