10 Mom-Tested Hand-Washing Tricks


How real moms get their kids to lather up and kill germs

By Kate Rope


We all know that washing hands is important, but we also know we’re so over the 10 minutes of negotiation that can precede it. Use these mom-developed techniques to keep your kids clean — and you sane.

Experts say you need to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to really get the germs off, but studies find that most kids leave the water running for less than five seconds. The moms we surveyed had these great ideas to make them wash longer:

    • Have them sing Happy Birthday — twice — while they wash
    • Use a kitchen timer or an hourglass to make it fun and accurate
  • Ask them to count to 10 slowly or 20 at a normal pace

Make it a Mantra

“When my son was potty training, I always told him to ‘cover, flush, and wash,'” says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta, Georgia, mom and coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn. When you “build it into the routine and make it expected,” it eliminates the need to negotiate every time. Kam, a mom from Redondo Beach, CA, agrees. The secret, she says, is “Routine, routine, routine. Every time we get home, we take off our jackets, shoes and socks, and wash hands before we can do anything else.”

Set Up a Kid-Friendly Wash Station

“Make it so they can reach everything they need,” recommends Shu. Set up a stool, a special towel, and a soap dispenser within easy reach so that they can take pride in doing it all by themselves (and you can get back to what you were doing).

Have Some Fun

You don’t need us to tell you that kids will buy into anything if it’s fun. But you may not know about all the amusing soap options out there.

“We buy all kinds of crazy soap,” says Elizabeth, a mom from Long Island, NY, “like the ones where the bottles light up so you can close the door and have a disco show. My almost-four-year-old old would spend half an hour in there if I let him!”

If washing hands is not exciting enough on its own, try these sneaky tactics. Cary, a mom from Brooklyn, NY, fills the sink up with water and soap, and drops in a pot and a sponge so she can “‘wash dishes,’ and her hands get super clean.” Erica, from Pleasantville, CA, and mom of three, does soapy washcloth high-fives with her kids to keep them entertained and get as much lather as she can on those six little hands.

Schedule an Inspection

New soaps have come out that change colors once your child’s hands have been washed long enough. For Sandy, a mom from New Haven, CT, “It works like a charm. We have to stopmy son from washing his hands!”

Make a Dirty Ditty

No, not that kind! Diane, a mom from Columbia, SC, taught her children a reminder tune that makes washing easy to remember and more fun to do. She sings it to the tune of Frere Jacques:

Front and back
Front and back
In between
In between
Rub them both together
Rub them both together
Now they’re clean
Now they’re clean

Another option:

Twinkle, twinkle little star.
Look how clean my two hands are.
Soap and water, wash and scrub.
Get those germs off rub-a-dub.
Twinkle, twinkle little star.
Look how clean my two hands are.

Let a Celebrity Sell ItPick a soap based on your child’s latest character obsession. From SpongeBob to Hello Kitty, there’s an appropriate celebrity soap for avid fans. An idol closer to home works too. “My daughter, who is almost three, is really into using my products,” says Jessica, a mom from Brooklyn, NY. “We act like the regular hand soap is strictly mine and then we make a big deal out of letting her use ‘Mommy’s soap.'”

When All Else Fails — FOAM!

You can’t beat the old-school fun of anything that foams, especially for little kids. Look for foamy version of hand soap and sanitizer. Cary, mom to Alice in Brooklyn, says her daughter “always asks for ‘a big squirt on both hands, Mama,’ which is fine with me.”