Importance of washing hands (and tools) when gardening

Fingers crossed, the weather will continue to warm and more and more people can get out into their gardens. If you garden in a community space, it will seem different this year.  An earlier update shared information on community gardening this summer.  In the community where I garden, we’ve installed foot-operated hand washing stations with soap readily available and we let nature dry our hands (or we bring our own towels).

As a reminder, the two most important practices in a community garden this summer are:

  • Physical distancing among non-family members. Maintain distances of 6 feet apart at all times.
  • Hand washing. Washing hands frequently with soap and water will help stop the spread of human and plant diseases.

Why is hand washing so important? Washing hands with soap and water is important because soap can destroy the coronavirus envelope, killing the virus; soap also acts to pick up other germs and dirt off the surfaces of our hands and arms. Water takes the soap (with captured germs and dirt) and washes it away.

When should you wash your hands? Wash your hands before you start gardening and before putting on gardening gloves. Wash your hands as you move between tasks, especially if you are sharing garden tools. Wash your hands before eating a meal or snack that you may have brought; then wash your hands after eating too! Wash your hands before returning to gardening if you use the toilet or change a diaper. Wash your hands as you end your time in the garden.  In my community, we are ‘washing in’ and ‘washing out’ of the garden this year.  Once home, be sure to give your hands a good soap and water wash  as an extra precaution.

What about hand sanitizers? The CDC tells us that alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be effective if our hands are dirty or greasy. And we don’t have evidence that hand wipes or disinfectants like bleach will work in our garden settings.  You might choose to use hand sanitizers in a pinch, but be sure to wash your hands when you return home.

Do shared tools need to be washed? This summer, in particular, it’s a good idea to wash the handles of shared tools or implements after use.  After using a shovel, trowel or wheelbarrow, use soap and water to clean the handles so tools are ready for the next gardener. If you only have a sanitizer or disinfectant available, you may use those – realizing that washing your hands when you return home is even more important. This summer consider investing in your own set of tools, if you can afford to do so.

Once home….

  • Wash your hands!
  • Wash reusable garden gloves, if you used them.
  • (Thinking ahead), rinse fresh fruits and vegetables with clean water (no soap!) before eating or preparing.

And be sure to follow the rules that your garden has set. Some gardens are considering limiting gardening to certain times, requiring use of masks, and so forth. These additional rules may be needed to ensure that everyone is comfortable in a community garden space this summer.

Resources that can help keep your community gardening this summer:

Stay well and happy gardening! Barb