Global Handwashing Day: Of TikTok trends and other amusing peculiarities of handwashing

Nowadays, pretty much everything has its own holiday. On 3 January in the USA, Chocolate Cherry Day coincides with “Thank God it’s Monday!” (only a cynic could have thought up the latter). On 2 April, your darling can officially wake you up with a pillow throw to the face on Pillow Fight Day, and on the 8th, Brits put their ornithological-creative outpourings to paper on Draw a Bird Day. As you can see, the significance of some curious commemorative days tends to be limited – even though we always welcome chocolate-covered cherries, of course. But if you have a sweet tooth with your bare fingers, the best thing to do is to find out about the basics of washing your hands properly on 15 October, Global Handwashing Day. On this important holiday, we have picked out some exciting facts for you and included a little reminder on how to get clean again from arm to fingertip – including TikTok videos and one or two anecdotes.
How a virus taught us how to wash our hands properly
Of course, washing your hands regularly is not only good manners but also part of healthy everyday hygiene. After all, it reduces the spread of disease and dirt. And although this is common knowledge, the pandemic was nevertheless an international reminder, with the words “Wash thoroughly and sing Happy Birthday twice while doing so!” written in capital letters and a red pen. Statista asked who had washed their hands more frequently than normal in the last few weeks since March 2020, i.e. since the outbreak of the pandemic. And lo and behold: in Austria, 93 per cent used soap more often, in Germany it was 92 per cent. The front-runner was Turkey with a full 96 per cent, while Belarus brought up the rear with 84 per cent. Now, this does not necessarily say anything about the basic hygiene of the countries – after all, “normally” could also mean that people there constantly put their hands under the water anyway. And yet no one can deny that in the last two years, daily hygiene has become much more of a focus than in all the decades before.
Other important facts also made the rounds: for example, according to the WHO, up to 80 per cent of all infectious diseases are transmitted from hand to hand. But also that moist hands transmit pathogens up to 1,000 times faster and that statistically the most neglected areas when washing hands are the fingertips, palms and thumbs.
It’s all about those hands
Since the coronavirus has made a matter that is so routine for us more present again, the instructions for daily hand washing have also been hung up more often next to the washbasin. The AUVA, the Austrian General Accident Insurance Institution, has provided a practical graphic for this purpose, which should be kept in mind. The time span for optimal hand washing is listed as 20 to 30 seconds – the same amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. But since there are a considerable number of people who are not only sick of the song when it is sung on their birthday (what do you do while everyone is looking at you and singing at you?), we have found a few alternatives for you. The first is to get your mind off your hands and onto your other two extremities: your feet. Because the chorus of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers has just the right amount of time for that: from the first “And I would walk …” to a round of “Da-da da-da!” it’s exactly 20 seconds.
Do you prefer something more contemporary? Those with rap talent try Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. The chorus lines repeat twice here, so that by the last sentence – “This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo!” – you end up at exactly 22 seconds (yes, we stopped). Too difficult to remember the snappy rhymes? We understand, which is why we often fall back on Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” ourselves. Just repeat “I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble” six times and you’re at pretty much 20 seconds. By the way, Lake Health, an association of hospitals in Ohio, re-purposed the song a bit back in 2016. A version that is more relevant today than ever.
From necessity to trend Catchy mnemonic devices like these ensure that we take more time for daily hygiene in our everyday lives. To reduce the spread of the virus, for example, the government of Vietnam produced a song together with the dancer Quang Đăng, complete with an animated music video and dance challenge – and went viral (how ironic). The trend even led to a scientific paper being written on the potential of hand-washing videos on TikTok for disease prevention.
We can tell you the conclusion: Some important key points of hygiene may not always find room in it, but it is a practical, fast-spreading and youth-friendly alternative to old-fashioned dogmas. Younger children, on the other hand, were advised to draw a small virus ball (or something friendlier) on the surface of their hand with a skin-friendly pencil, which should then be washed away by the evening. With such playful approaches, the younger generations are also brought on board.
But one thing has long been clear to everyone: proper handwashing was, is and will remain important – not only on Global Handwashing Day. So find your favourite song, sing along loudly, swing your hips while scrubbing and don’t forget your thumbs!