How to Have Proper Hand Hygiene: What You Need to Do

Hands are useful for so much of our everyday tasks and activities—but when you’re worried about germs, keeping your hands clean can seem overwhelming.

How can you have proper hand hygiene when your hands touch everything? From shopping carts to door handles, hands help us get through the world. But along the way, they can pick up lots of germs.

It’s important to follow safety precautions while not going overboard. As long as you follow regular hand washing processes and wear gloves when necessary, you’ll be doing your part to prevent disease transmission and stay clean. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about hand hygiene. Some of it might seem a bit basic, but it’s important to make sure you understand why you’re going through these steps.

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

You may have heard the popular advice to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing your hands to make sure you’re doing it long enough. This is just a way to get you to keep you at the sink for at least 20 seconds, so feel free to substitute whatever other songs can fill that time block. But the time alone isn’t all you need to think about.

You should use this time to scrub all parts of your hands, including your fingertips, fingernails, palms, and the backs of your hands. Use warm water for the most effective process. And, of course, make sure you get enough soap.

Drying Your Hands

Proper hand washing includes a thorough drying process. If you’re not drying your hands after you wash them, you could be creating an environment that encourages the spread of germs.

Wet hands can also dry out your skin as the water evaporates, leading to all kinds of problems. To keep your hands happy and healthy, make sure you do a thorough drying after washing your hands.

And make sure to wash that hand towel in your home bathroom! You’ll be rubbing your hands on it, so it’ll be good to know that the towel is as clean as your hands.

When to Wash Your Hands

Many people are used to washing their hands after using the toilet and if they’ve touched something dirty. Some people are also in the habit of washing their hands before meals.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, though, people are washing their hands more than ever. Many people who get infected are asymptomatic, so touching anything that other people might have recently touched carries a bigger risk than before.

To protect yourself from possible sources of virus transmission out in the world, you might want to wash your hands once you get home. If you’ve been grocery shopping, touching crosswalk signs, and opening doors, a good hand washing can help prevent you from any germs you may have picked up.

You can also wash your hands as a way of preventing others from picking up your germs. If you sneeze and use a tissue, washing your hands right after can remove potential pathogens from your hands.

Hand Sanitizer

Not everyone has a sink handy all the time. In this case, hand sanitizer can be a useful substitute. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), you should choose a sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

If the label doesn’t mention alcohol, look for “ethanol” or “ethyl alcohol,” which refer to the same thing. The alcohol should kill the germs on your hands, leaving them clean for whatever you need to do.

Wearing Gloves

When you need to increase your level of hand hygiene, you can wear gloves as a barrier between you and potentially contaminated surfaces. This can also be a good precaution if you think you may be in close contact with other people’s hands (for example, if you are a cashier handing out change and receipts at a register).

In the past, people used to pair hand washing with gloves only if there was visible contact with a substance. These days, though, experts recommend hand washing after you take gloves off as a standard precaution. In case anything got through the gloves or you made a mistake in removal, hand washing can be an additional safety measure.

Removing Gloves

Speaking of glove removal, you should take a moment to make sure you’re doing this step right. Rather than pulling at the fingertips, you should take off gloves by pulling them inside out.

Pulling gloves off at the fingertips might seem to work okay for the first hand, but then you’re left with a bare hand and a gloved one. You can’t use the same method without touching the outside of a glove.

To play it safe, you should use the inside-out removal process for both gloves.

How Hand Hygiene Works

Why should you wash your hands anyway? You know it makes you cleaner, but why?

Well, it separates any dirt from your skin. And beyond that, it provides another layer of protection between you and pathogens.

Despite your best efforts, you might touch a contaminated surface or person. But this doesn’t always mean you’re already infected. If you wash your hands before getting a chance to touch your face, this could remove the risk of transmission.

Squeaky Clean!

Well, your hands might not actually squeak when you’re done cleaning them. But if you’ve done a proper job with your hand hygiene, you might feel a lot better about your general cleanliness.

These days, some safety precautions have gone from a job-specific concern to something everyday people have to learn about. Coming to this article is a great step in the direction of public health and safety! To learn more, check out some of our other articles about health precautions.

Aseptic Technique Vs. Sterile Technique: The Basics

Biological and medical glossaries are full of ambiguous language and similar terminology. One of these common points of confusion is the difference between aseptic technique vs. sterile technique.

Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t quite identical terms. Both work to prevent the spread of disease, but they do so in different ways and aren’t always useful in the same environments.

In this guide, we’ll go over when to use aseptic techniques, when to use sterile techniques, and the differences between each of them. Keep reading for a summary of what you need to know to avoid biocontamination.

The Principles of Sterile Technique

When something is sterile, it’s completely free of any live microscopic organisms. This includes the standard bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protists. It also extends to more resistant bacterial spores.

Sterile technique involves the sanitization of surfaces and implements. The most common ways to achieve sterility include:

  • high heat
  • high pressure
  • steam
  • chemical sanitization
  • irradiation
  • filtration

Heat, pressure, and steam are the most common sanitization methods. All three combine in an autoclave, a machine that’s used to kill microbes on medical or scientific instruments.

Professional piercers also often use autoclaves to sterilize their equipment and jewelry. This lowers the risk of infection after a piercing.

True sterile fields are very difficult to maintain outside of an autoclave, laboratory hood, or enclosed package. As soon as an item is exposed to unfiltered air, for example, it’s no longer sterile. When you’re working with things that can’t be completely sterilized, you’ll need to use aseptic technique instead.

The Principles of Aseptic Technique

The term aseptic refers to something an item or environment that’s free of disease or disease-causing microbes.

Aseptic techniques are preventative techniques. Their goal is to take sterile items and surfaces and keep them from being contaminated with harmful pathogens while in use.

Aseptic technique can’t guarantee an environment that’s free of all microbes. When followed correctly, though, it should be free of all harmful microbes.

The main principles of aseptic technique include:

  • assessing the potential biocontamination risks
  • decontaminating tools, surfaces, and key parts
  • protecting yourself and others from spreading pathogens
  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • creating and working within aseptic fields (germ-free spaces)
  • using non-touch techniques whenever possible
  • avoiding cross-contamination

The specifics of aseptic technique will vary depending on the environment. Regardless of its application, maintaining asepsis requires a rigorous and detailed approach. It’s much more complex than sterilization.

How to Maintain an Aseptic Environment

While sterilization is often a single-step process, aseptic technique is a complicated series of events. To create a germ-free environment, workers must adhere to the following procedures:

  • only using sterilized equipment
  • disposing of used equipment in proper biosafety containers
  • only allowing necessary personnel to enter the aseptic field and minimizing traffic through the room
  • frequent or continuous air filtration
  • practicing excellent hand hygiene
  • wearing gloves, masks, eye shields, gowns, hair and boot covers, or other PPE
  • keeping doors closed as much as possible during the procedure or event

These are basic protocols that apply to every aseptic environment. Your workplace may ask you to adhere to even stricter standards than the ones listed here.

When You Should Use Aseptic Technique vs. Sterile Technique

In real-life practice, there’s quite a bit of overlap between aseptic and sterile techniques. Even so, there are some things—like the human body—that you can’t make sterile. If you tried to sterilize a wound with high heat, for example, you could cause serious burns.

To better understand, let’s dive a bit deeper into when each method is most useful.

When to Use Sterile Technique

Sterile techniques are brute-force attacks against microorganisms of all types. They’re best for small-scale operations, like sanitizing tools. They’re also used in industrial facilities like food processing plants.

Some of the most common applications of sterile technique include:

  • sterilization of canned foods to reduce Clostridium botulinum spores and mold contamination
  • preserving milk
  • sterilization of jarred and bottled foods to increase shelf life
  • sterile laboratory hoods and rooms for biological research (such as with germ-free mouse colonies)
  • disinfecting surgical implements like scalpels, gauze, and forceps
  • sanitizing jewelry before new piercings

Most of the time, sterile technique is only part of the larger process. People working with sterile objects must use aseptic technique to avoid contamination during use.

When Aseptic Technique Is Appropriate

Asepsis is used most often in the fields of medicine and research. It’s also useful in the manufacturing of food and drugs.

Some situations that need aseptic technique include:

  • food packaging
  • manufacturing and packaging medications
  • performing surgery or handling surgical implements
  • delivering a baby via vaginal birth or cesarean section
  • performing dialysis
  • giving a blood transfusion
  • inserting a catheter, IV, arterial line, or chest tube
  • dressing burns or caring for open wounds
  • performing a biopsy
  • plating bacterial cultures
  • working with dangerous pathogens in a microbiology lab

As mentioned before, aseptic technique is useful in most circumstances where you can’t get rid of all microbes, but need to avoid introducing harmful ones.

Educate Yourself About Reducing Pathogen Spread

Whether you work in a lab, a factory, or an operating theater, one thing’s for sure. Knowing the difference between aseptic technique vs. sterile technique is the first step in preventing the spread of disease. The more you know about them, the easier it is to identify when to use each one and how best to avoid contamination.

This guide covers the basics, but there’s a lot more to sterile and aseptic technique than we talked about here. For more in-depth information, make sure to check back with our site for other articles like this one.

What’s the Difference Between Aseptic Technique and Clean Technique?

Medical professionals are known for scrubbing their hands before procedures. But just how clean are healthcare facilities and the individuals who work in them? Well, the aseptic technique is a method that’s commonly used to protect patients.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), healthcare workers are required to learn about the aseptic technique during training. It’s also expected to be enforced in institutional policies. By implementing this technique, patients have more protection against harmful germs. 

However, there’s more than one method that medical providers use to ensure the safety of patients—the clean technique is used also. To learn more about the difference between the two, take a look at the information below.

What Is the Aseptic Technique?

It’s impossible to get away from bacteria— they’re all around us. However, not all of them are created equal, and there are good and bad bacteria. The microorganisms, bacteria, and viruses that cause diseases are known as pathogens.

In order to shield patients against harmful bacteria and other pathogens, healthcare professionals use the aseptic technique during medical procedures. 

Without the aseptic technique, the spread of pathogens can lead to infections and other illnesses. Below are some of the common reasons why medical professionals use the aseptic technique:

  • Handling surgical tools 
  • Performing dialysis
  • Childbirth via vaginal delivery
  • Handling dialysis catheters
  • Performing surgical procedures
  • Putting in a urinary catheter
  • Putting in an IV or arterial lines
  • Inserting draining devices

All of the procedures listed above require close contact. Therefore the aseptic technique is vital to protecting the health of patients.

The Common Aspects of the Aseptic Technique

There are four primary aspects of the aseptic technique. Each aspect is an important component of ensuring that infection doesn’t spread during a medical procedure. 

The aspects include the following:

Environmental Control

Keeping the environment sterile is essential to keeping harmful pathogens at bay. During an operation, health professionals keep the environment safe by closing the doors and only allowing authorized personnel into the procedural room.

The more people that are present during an operation, the higher the chance of spreading harmful pathogens through contamination.

Barriers

Creating barriers is an effective method for preventing pathogens from transferring from a medical professional, the environment, or both. The most common barriers used in the aseptic technique are:

  • Sterile gowns
  • Sterile drapes
  • Sterile glass
  • Mask for the healthcare worker and the patient

Sterile barriers should not touch contaminated surfaces. Therefore, they’re specially cleaned and packaged to keep them away from harmful germs. Medical professionals are required to utilize barriers to reduce the risk of germ exposure.

Equipment Preparation and Sterilization

Medical providers sterilize equipment and instruments before performing procedures on patients. Doing so ensures that no contaminated tools are used on or inside of a patient’s body.

Furthermore, cleansing preparations are done on the patient’s skin prior to the procedure to further shield against the spread of pathogens.

Contact Guidelines

After a medical professional creates sterile barriers, they must only touch other sanitized objects. They are required to avoid touching non-sterile items as much as possible. 

One of the most common procedures that increase the risk of infection is inserting a urinary catheter. It drains urine from the bladder and could possibly lead to catheter-associated urinary tract infections

When a healthcare worker inserts a catheter, they utilize all four aseptic techniques by doing the following:

  • Creating barriers by wearing sterile gloves
  • Using environmental control by allowing only a couple of medical professionals in the room with the patient
  • Performing equipment preparation by opening sterile packaging that consists of a sterile catheter. Also, the patient’s skin is prepared before the procedure.
  • Adhering to contact guidelines by following the aseptic non-touch technique and avoiding non-sterile services 

It’s vital that healthcare workers follow all four steps of the aseptic technique. Otherwise, it makes the patient susceptible to infection.

What Is the Clean Technique?

The clean technique involves minimizing microorganisms and their transfer from one area to another. Generally, cleaning includes in-depth handwashing, maintaining a clean atmosphere, and wearing non-sterile gloves. With the clean technique, no sterile rules are required. 

For the most part, the clean technique is ideal for clinical settings, long-term care facilities, and other medical environments where patients are at a lower risk of infection. 

Medical Aseptic Technique Vs. The Clean Technique

A clean environment helps to ensure that infections aren’t spread. However, sometimes the clean technique isn’t effective enough, and the aseptic technique is required instead.

Medical professionals learn both techniques when they are trained in their field. Therefore, they know which one is best for every circumstance.

The objective of the aseptic technique is to alleviate germs completely. On the other hand, the purpose of the clean technique is to minimize the number of germs as much as possible.

Clean techniques are essential for all medical professionals and their patients because it helps to prevent infections. For example, handwashing and wearing clean gloves are standard clean technique procedures that are generally used for: 

  • Performing an injection
  • Taking out a urinary catheter
  • Removing a peripheral IV
  • Giving a patient a bed bath
  • Emptying a urinary catheter drainage bag
  • Inserting a peripheral IV 

Although the clean technique doesn’t include sterile operations, it’s still effective in shielding patients against pathogens.

Learn More About the Aseptic Technique

Although the aseptic technique and clean technique are similar, they’re not created equal. Each method serves its purpose to ensure patient safety.

Hopefully, the information above helps you clearly understand the difference between the two. To continue learning more about aseptic techniques and other medical operations, read more of our blog posts.

What Does Aseptic Mean? A Guide to Aseptic Techniques

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic organisms are everywhere. Not only do they cover almost every surface, but they also travel from place to place through the air.

This means that the threat of biological contamination is always present. As such, people working in many clinical, laboratory, and industrial settings must take extra care to avoid it. The procedures they use, called aseptic techniques, go beyond the typical steps of good hygiene and cleanliness.

What measures are involved in aseptic technique and why are they so important to follow? We’ll answer these questions and more below.

What Is Aseptic Technique?

To understand what aseptic technique is, let’s start by breaking down the terminology.

When something is septic, it’s contaminated with harmful biological substances like bacteria. You may have heard that term in regards to a septic tank, a holding tank full of contaminated wastewater. It also applies to sepsis, a medical condition in which an infection spreads throughout your whole body.

In contrast, aseptic refers to something free of bio-contaminants. Aseptic techniques are the standards and procedures that help to maintain a germ-free environment.

Aseptic Technique vs. Sterile Technique

There is some overlap between aseptic and sterile techniques, but the terms aren’t quite synonymous.

Sterilization is the act of decontaminating an item by killing all the present microorganisms. The most common sterilizing methods include steam, high heat, and high pressure. Filtration, chemical treatments, and radiation can also be effective.

Foods, surgical instruments, medications, and lab equipment are all examples of items treated with sterile techniques.

Aseptic technique focuses on avoiding and minimizing the risk of contamination. It does involve the use of sterilized tools, but it also extends to things that can’t be completely sterilized. These may include bacterial cultures and patients undergoing operations.

Why Are Aseptic Techniques Important?

Using aseptic technique in a microbiology lab may look different than using it in healthcare, but it’s vital in both settings.

In a laboratory, aseptic techniques keep samples from getting contaminated. Gathering accurate data from plated cells and microorganisms requires a pure culture. Any unwanted biological interference can corrupt the culture and make it useless.

In healthcare, aseptic practices are the most effective way to prevent infections. Without them, pathogens in the air, on surfaces, and even on the healthcare providers themselves can transfer to patients and make them ill.

No matter where they’re used, aseptic techniques also protect the professionals working with dangerous pathogens from getting sick.

Core Components of Aseptic Technique

The exact aseptic technique steps you need to follow will vary based on the setting you’re working in. Even so, some standard procedures apply to all aseptic environments. Here are a few of the core components to keep in mind.

Assessing the Risk of Contamination

The first step in following aseptic procedure is to assess the environment and situation. Depending on how high the risk of contamination is, you may have to take extra precautions to protect yourself, others, or sensitive samples. For example, performing open-heart surgery requires a much higher level of asepsis than giving a vaccination.

Decontamination and Protection

Keeping your environment free of germs starts with disinfecting all surfaces, tools, and key parts. However, disinfecting objects alone isn’t enough to prevent contamination. You also have to take appropriate protective measures to avoid spreading germs from your person.

One of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of pathogens is to practice good hand hygiene. This is why surgeons, for example, always wash their hands and forearms thoroughly before operating on a patient.

You may also need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). This may include, but isn’t limited to:

  • surgical or N-95 masks
  • respirators
  • face shields
  • goggles or protective eyeglasses
  • disposable gowns
  • nitrile or latex gloves
  • shoe and hair covers

While wearing PPE and practicing good hygiene won’t make you “sterile”, it will keep you from picking up germs or passing them along.

Creating Aseptic Fields

Maintaining a clean working environment is crucial to maintaining a germ-free space. To accomplish this, you’ll need to set up an area called an aseptic field.

An aseptic field keeps all procedural equipment contained in a way that’s either sterile or easy to disinfect before use. It can either be a micro field (like the packaging on medical instruments) or a general field (like an operating room).

These principles also apply when working with patients. That’s why you have to change into a hospital gown before surgery and why a doctor will disinfect your skin before giving an injection or making an incision.

Using Non-Touch Techniques

Touch is one of the most common sources of contamination. As such, you should only touch items when necessary.

To follow low- and no-touch techniques, do the following:

  • wash hands and put on gloves
  • disinfect surfaces before placing equipment on them
  • wait to open sterilized tools until they’re ready to be used
  • always re-wash hands and put on new gloves before handling equipment or touching the patient
  • immediately dispose of contaminated items in the correct places

After the procedure is over, wash your hands and put on another new pair of gloves to clean and disinfect the area.

Preventing Cross-Contamination

As soon as a sterile item comes in contact with a non-sterile item, it’s no longer sterile. To prevent cross-contamination, it either needs to be thrown out or re-sterilized before it can be used again.

Learn More About Avoiding Biocontamination

Whenever you’re working in a laboratory or clinical setting, avoiding microbial contaminants should be a top priority. The aseptic technique examples listed above are a great place to start.

To keep learning more about the specifics of aseptic techniques, make sure to check back with our site often.