How Much Bacteria is on Your Hands?

Health     Hand Sanitizer     Bacteria     Hand Washing

As humans, we go about our day performing daily routines like cooking, driving, and taking care of pets. Throughout all of those activities, small organisms known as bacteria are present. Defined as any group of single-celled organisms, bacteria are not visible to the naked eye. Though incredibly small, these organisms are complex and strong. Because of its tough protective coating, bacteria are able to survive and thrive in extreme conditions.

The human body has bacteria all over it. However, a large concentration of bacteria tends to be located on the surface of hands. Coming in contact with several surfaces throughout the day, hands are susceptible to carrying a wide variety of bacteria. With that knowledge, many people may feel compelled to use gloves as a means of protection from infectious diseases.

In this article, you will learn about the bacteria that live on the surface of your hands and the importance of good hand hygiene practices like handwashing and using hand sanitizer.

uv light showing all the different kinds of bacteria on a hand

How many types of bacteria are on your hands?

While many people know that there are millions of bacteria on their hands at any given time, all of them are not the same. If a person sits down and considers all of the objects they touch in a single day, it would begin to make sense that different kinds of germs exist on different surfaces. Considering that up to 80% of all infections are transmitted by hands, it's important to understand what types of bacteria can be found.

On the hand, there are two major classifications of bacteria: transient and resident. Transient bacteria are microbes that are subconsciously picked up throughout the course of a day as a person touches or interacts with the world around them. Resident bacteria are eternally present on the surface of the skin. These bacteria are typically harmless, with one of their major functions being to keep foreign bacteria from spreading.

Transient bacteria live on all kinds of surfaces. One of the most common objects that can carry harmful pathogens is a cell phone. Normally taken with people wherever they go, infections like staphylococcus aureus can be transferred to the hands.  

When those two classifications are broken down even further, it is said that there are over 332,000 genetically distinct bacteria that can live on a person’s hands. The number of distinct bacteria found at a given time is dependent on several factors. Some of these factors include genetics and overall hand hygiene.

hands being scrubbed with soap

How long can bacteria live on your hands?

With so many bacteria on the surface of your hands, some may begin wondering about the length of time these microbes can survive. Since there can be up to 10 million bacteria on your fingertips at any given time, these bacteria are able to survive anywhere from 1-3 hours. Although that seems like a short amount of time, as your hands continue to touch other surfaces, new bacteria replace dead sources. It becomes a never-ending cycle.

Because bacteria are easily transferable from one surface to the next, it is extremely important to keep your hands clean.

woman thoroughly washing hands with soap and water

The importance of handwashing and sanitizing

The importance of washing hands with soap and running water is a concept that has been ingrained in the minds of many since childhood. After coming home from school and before eating dinner, many parents advise their children to “wash your hands.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand washing should always be the first option when someone is looking to clean their hands after coming in contact with surfaces like door handles. Having unwashed hands can be very dangerous to immune system functionality and overall healthcare.  

And while many people have knowledge of hand washing and its importance, there is still much confusion regarding proper technique. As you turn on the faucet and let water run, place soap on your hands and begin to lather. When it comes to the amount of time necessary for best results, singing Happy Birthday twice has become a gold standard. At a regular pace, it should take 25-30 seconds to get through the song two times. After finishing, make sure to dry your hands with a clean towel. To learn more about the ins and outs of hand washing, check out this blog.  

When with young children, making hand washing a game can encourage them to become more engaged with the entire process.

Also, make sure to use an antibacterial soap that has been FDA approved.

Another great way to keep your hands clean is through the use of hand sanitizers. With social distancing rules still in place, coming in close contact with others is still seen as a risk. During those moments where you have to be surrounded by others (for example at a grocery store) after using a shopping cart, having a hand sanitizer present can help you gain peace of mind.

When using a hand sanitizer, you have to understand that the way your hand rubs the solution into the skin is important. Many people rub the solution into their hands for a few seconds and shake off whatever residual liquid remains. Taking 15 to 20 seconds to rub your hands helps sanitizers move onto the surface and kill germs. If you want to learn more about how sanitizers kill germs, click here.

Child finished washing hands

Bacteria can be tamed

Bacteria are everywhere and that is not going to change. One thing that can change is your approach to hand hygiene and overall health. Human hands transfer so many bacteria that it is important to stay aware of what you touch and how often you clean your hands. By using hand sanitizers and incorporating good hand washing practices into your everyday life, bad bacteria will remain at bay.