Washing your hands? Hot tap or cold?

To all the lazy hand washers, lathering for five seconds isn't enough to remove bacteria.

Washing your hands is really important to stop the spread of germs, which can make you ill.

A U.S. study has settled the age-old question of whether washing your hands with cold water is as good at washing them with warm water.

The researchers said it was more important to ensure people washed their hands at all, before preparing food and after using the toilet, than it was to insist water was hot. The participants were then asked to wash their hands multiple times in water temperatures ranging from 15 degrees Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and soap volume ranging from 0.5 milliliters to 2 milliliters.

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Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey concluded that repeatedly washing your hands in hot water can damage the skin, making it harder to remove germs and possibly letting more in.

In this study, scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick wanted to find out if popular assumptions about the benefits of warm or hot water and official guidance on hot water - given to the food industry in the USA - held true.

"People need to feel comfortable when they are washing their hands but as far as effectiveness, this study shows us that the temperature of the water used didn't matter", says Donald Schaffner, distinguished professor and extension specialist in food science.

The study also found that people who regularly used lotion on their hands had fewer bacteria after washing than those who didn't, possibly because moisturizing can help fix dry and damaged skin that's more hard to clean. To separate fact from fiction, Professor Schaffner and his colleagues challenged the popular assumptions and official FDA recommendations about handwashing through a series of tests done over a period of six months.

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The action of washing soap off in the process of handwashing is what "helps to get hands clean", she said. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration issued a report that antibacterial soaps weren't more effective and could cause health problems.

Their guidance focuses on rubbing hands together in various ways to make sure each surface of each hand is clean.

The study also found that using antibacterial soap is no better or worse than using normal soap when it comes to washing hands. If cold water handwashing becomes the norm, businesses could save significantly in terms of energy use. The authors of the study hope that the agency will revise water temperature policy at that time to avoid so much wasted energy on hot water usage.

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  • Jermaine Castillo