How Clean Are Your Hands?

After spending some time at the playground, soccer field, or in the backyard, it can be easy to see the dirt on our hands.

What you can’t see are the invisible-to-your-eye germs that accumulate on your hands throughout the day. To help kids see the effect those germs have, give this this eye-opening experiment a try.


What you’ll need:

  • Three slices of bread (the kind from a bakery or homemade works best — the fewer preservatives the better)
  • Three resealable bags


  1. Label each of the three bags:
    • Control
    • Dirty
    • Clean
  2. Place one slice of bread in the “control” bag without touching it.  You can use clean tongs, or turn the resealable bag inside out and use it like a glove to get the slice inside.  Seal the bag.
  3. Remove a second slice of bread and have your child touch the bread with her unwashed hands.  Place the bread in the bag and seal it.
  4. Have your child wash her hands with soap and water.
  5. Take a third slice of bread and have your child touch the bread with her freshly-washed hands.  Place the bread in the bag and seal it.
  6. Take all three sealed bags and put them in a cool, dry place.
  7. Look at the bread daily and write down your observations, but do not take the bread out of the bags. In a few days, mold should start to appear. What slice of bread gets moldy first? Which grows the most mold? Which grows the least? If mold starts to appear, have your child take a ruler and measure it and record your observations. You can even draw a picture of the bread each day, or keep a photo diary by taking pictures of the bread each day to watch the changes over time.

Learning about hand hygiene

When Should I Wash?

“You should wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food. Also wash before you eat, after using the restroom, after blowing your nose, after touching animals, and any time your hands appear dirty,” says Terri Stillwell, MD, Associate Hospital Epidemiologist at Mott Children’s Hospital, where she is responsible carrying out various roles for infection control and prevention. Dirty hands can spread all kinds of germs from the common cold to food poisoning to more serious illnesses.

How Do I Wash?

Most of us do not properly wash our hands. The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) recommends a multistep process:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

“The scrubbing part of washing your hands is important. It’s the combination of the friction of rubbing your hands together along with the soap that really gets them clean. Take your time and sing or hum the Happy Birthday song twice,” says Dr. Stillwell. If soap and water are not available, Dr. Stillwell recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. “Make sure it’s at least 60 percent alcohol. Rub the sanitizer all over your hands just like if you were scrubbing your hands with soap and water. Then allow the sanitizer to dry.”

Other science activities from Camp Little Victors: