Cold viruses spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending virus-infected droplets into the air. The viruses that cause colds can also live on any object or surface that an infected person comes in contact with. These viruses can continue to live on door handles, toys, towels and other frequently touched surfaces for days after being touched by a person with a cold.

Washing your hands thoroughly and often will help to reduce your chances of catching a cold from having touched a surface infected with one of the more than 200 different viruses that can cause a cold. If you already have a cold, washing your hands can help to prevent your cold virus from spreading to those around you.

Washing Your Hands to Prevent Colds

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a five-step process for washing your hands:1

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together. Don’t forget to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or allow them to air dry.

Young children may need help washing their hands well, so when you’re done washing your own hands, help your kids to do the same. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help protect against catching a cold.

Other Things You Can Do to Prevent a Cold2

Cold viruses can enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth, so avoid touching these areas with unwashed hands. It’s also a good idea to stay away from people who are sick, as the viruses that cause the common cold can spread through close personal contact or even through the air.

Tips on Preventing Cold Viruses from Spreading to Other People

If you have a cold, here are a few tips to protect those around you from catching a cold, too:2

  • Stay at home while you are sick – you are the most contagious in the first few days of your cold
  • Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging or shaking hands
  • Step away from other people if you have to cough or sneeze
  • Wash your hands after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose
  • Disinfect the surfaces and objects that you touch
  • Use paper towels instead of cloth towels to wipe your hands or face

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html. Accessed July 14, 2014.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/. Accessed July 17, 2014.

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