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Real Science: Glitter Germs

We've been washing our hands a lot lately—for good reason! The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. It's one of the best, easiest ways to help keep yourself healthy. This Real Science an experiment that will show you how easily germs can spread so you can see why it’s so important to wash your hands.


  • Small bottle of baby oil
  • Glitter
  • Cup (or something else you can pick up, like a plate or silverware)
  • At least one other person
  • Hand soap


  1. Have everyone participating in the experiment rub baby oil on their hands.
  2. One person sprinkle glitter onto their hands. These are our germs. You've been sneezing and coughing and wiping your nose, and now the germs are all over your hands!
  3. Shake hands with everyone else. What happens to the germs?
  4. Pick up the cup (or some other item you can pick up). What happens to the germs?
  5. Try washing your glittery hands in warm water without soap. Did the germs go away?
  6. Wash your hands again. Use soap this time. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Did the germs go away?

What's going on:

Germs spread in lots of different ways. Some of them travel in saliva through the air, which is why you should cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough. But even then you still get the germs on your hands. Many germs love to move from person-to-person by personal contact. When you shook hands, you spread your germs to them. When you used your cup, you spread the germs. If you had washed your hands thoroughly right after you spread the glitter onto them, those germs wouldn’t have been around to get spread!

Whenever you wash your hands, you should always use soap and warm water. Scrub all over your hands: your nails, the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and even your wrists. You should wash for at least 20 seconds. A good way to judge the time is to sing the alphabet song to yourself. Some people like to use antibiotic soap to help kill germs, but this can have negative side effects. The germs can adapt and evolve defenses against antibiotics if they’re overused, which means they become much harder to kill. These days most health professionals recommend you just use regular soap at home. It will wash away the germs without creating antibiotic resistance.

Either way, though, make sure that you wash your hands regularly. You never know when you might have gotten germs on you from someone else, and a good hand washing is a lot easier than a trip to the doctor!