No Such Thing as “Pwede Na” in Hand Hygiene

1 / 18 / 2024

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report revealed that only 50 percent of Filipinos practice proper handwashing. While 99 percent of Pinoys washed their hands more often – especially during the first six months of 2020 – only half washed their hands properly.  

The 2020 Philippines Handwashing Habits Survey surveyed 240 participants, most of whom identified that “Washing quickly with soap and water” is their go-to practice when washing their hands. The 50 percent who practice this are also guilty of washing for less than 20 seconds or just using a tissue to clean their hands.  

“Pwede na” — surveyors attribute the lack of enthusiasm in hand washing to this Filipino behavior. Most Pinoys settle with soap and water, thinking that it’s enough. In reality, “Okay na to” or “Pwede na to” can put us at risk of catching deadly viruses – even with something as simple as handwashing.  

Sad Handwashing Statistics

The survey’s respondents were aware of the importance of hand hygiene. Despite the awareness, they still exhibited poor handwashing habits. Even if they didn’t practice the standard 20-second hand wash, they still thought of themselves as “excellent” hand washers.  

The respondents were also unaware of the instances in which they should wash their hands. Most of them know that you should wash your hands before eating or when you come home from outside. However, a low percentage said that handwashing is important after you use the toilet (16 percent), after you eat (7 percent), and after shaking another person’s hand (1 percent).  

Why a “Pwede Na” Handwashing Attitude is Not “Pwede Na” 

Cliche as it sounds, washing hands STILL save lives. (Image from Pexels)

Every day, our hands touch a lot of people and things. By doing so, we pass along germs and bacteria. Washing our hands can remove most of these germs and keep everyone around us, including ourselves, healthy.  

However, settling for the “quick soap and water” run is not enough. The 20-second rule is grounded on research that measured the number of bacteria before and after handwashing. Researchers reported that washing your hands for 20 seconds removes 99.5 percent of bacteria. On the other hand, washing for 5 seconds only removed 2% of bacteria.  

If you don’t wash your hands properly, you can transmit harmful diseases like: 

  • Novoviruses. These are the primary culprits of gastroenteritis in humans. It quickly spreads within large groups of people in close quarters.  
  • Airborne illnesses. These are often caused by droplets sneezed, breathed in, or coughed into the air by a sick person. Common airborne illnesses caused by poor hand hygiene include meningitis, chicken pox, influenza, and the common cold.  
  • Hepatitis A. This viral infection trigger symptoms, which include fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, jaundice, and liver problems. It is often spread by poor food preparation.  

Diligent handwashing will always be one of the best defenses against illnesses and infections. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. What is 20 seconds of proper handwashing compared to weeks or months spent in the hospital?  

The “Okay-er than Okay” Way to Wash Your Hands 

Proper handwashing might seem more time-consuming than just running your hands under water and being done with it. However, it saves lives. Plus, it can be done quickly, too: 

  1. Remove any jewelry before you wet your hands with water.
  2. Add soap to your hands and rub them together to make a lather. Do this for 20 seconds. Make it more fun by singing “Happy Birthday” or the 20-second chorus of the following songs: 

A. “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys 

B. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift 

C. “Finesse” by Bruno Mars 

D. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson 

E. “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel (perfect if you’re washing your hands with your kids) 

F. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond 

 3. Be sure to clean the backs of your hands and palms and between your fingers.  

 4. Rinse your hands thoroughly.

 5.Wipe your hands dry with a paper towel. For extra precaution, use the same paper towel to turn off the tap.  

What If There’s No Soap and Water? 

In the Philippines, we have plenty of public bathrooms that have water yet no soap. So, it pays to ask: is it still worthwhile to wash your hands under these conditions? Should you wash longer, even if there is no soap? 

Let’s put it this way: Soap is better than no soap. However, washing with water is still better than just wiping your hands. You can make up for the lack of soap by scrubbing your hands more vigorously. But it’s still best to go with soap and water. 

If you don’t, hand sanitizer or alcohol sprays are the best alternatives. Sanicare’s Clean Hands Alcohol Spray, for example, has an anti-bacterial formula that cleans your hands. Made from a plant-based moisturizer and other skin-loving ingredients, it sanitizes your skin without drying it. It also comes in a convenient 55ml (about 1.86 oz) bottle that you can store in your purse, backpack, or any bag. It even fits your pocket so you can take it anywhere! 

Pwedeng-Pwede: Creating a Culture of Hand Hygiene 

Preventing the “Pwede Na” culture from affecting the handwashing routines for ALL Filipinos is tricky. But the first step to making a change is by setting an example. If you are not washing your hands properly, the people around you will do the same. Reinforce good behavior with yourself first before having others do the same.  

Information is also power. Many Pinoys still don’t understand the importance of washing their hands. Educate people whenever you can. Start with your inner circle; teach them when, why, and how to wash their hands. If you’re a teacher or a business owner, hold educational hand hygiene sessions with your students or employees, respectively. This small investment in time and resources will benefit their health overall.  


Pwede na can sometimes refer to settling or being content. In some aspecta, that’s OK but with our health, we should always be after what is best for us. When it comes to handwashing, sparing 20 seconds can save lives.  

Here’s to practicing healthy hand hygiene for a healthier Philippines! 


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