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How Apple Watch’s new hand washing feature could help protect you from coronavirus

How Apple Watch’s new hand washing feature could help protect you from coronavirus
(Image credit: Getty)

In Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, WWDC 2020 (opens in new tab), held this week, the tech giant announced that the latest Apple Watch update (WatchOS 7) includes a new hand washing feature that automatically detects when you’re washing your hands. The watch then initiates a 20-second countdown, the length of time advised by the CDC in its hand hygiene (opens in new tab) advice. 

As we now know, washing your hands ensures you aren’t potentially spreading the coronavirus or touching your face with any trace of it on your hands. So this new Apple Watch feature is a brilliant addition to what is already one of the world's best smartwatches for wellness and health tracking.

Thanks to the WatchOS 7 update, the Apple Watch now uses a combination of motion sensors, microphone and on-device machine learning to automatically detect the sounds and motion of you washing your hands. But don’t worry, Apple says that, ‘Sounds used to detect hand washing are not automatically recorded or saved by the Health app or Apple Watch.’

If you finish washing your hands before the countdown timer has ended, the Apple Watch will prompt you to keep washing until the full 20 seconds is up. The device can also remind you to wash your hands as soon as you return home, to help prevent any spread of potential coronavirus around your house.

Apple WatchOS 7 introduces a feature to help you wash your hands properly to slow the spread of the coronavirus

(Image credit: Apple)

Want to keep tabs on how often you’re washing your hands, and how good your hand hygiene is? That data is available in the improved Health app (opens in new tab). This is also where you’ll find information related to why hand washing is still so important in the fight against the coronavirus.

The automatic hand washing feature is one of several new health and wellness functions covered by WatchOS 7, and truly rounds out the Apple Watch as a brilliant device for monitoring your sleep, menstrual health, general wellness and more.

A bar of pink hand soap

(Image credit: Getty)

How does washing our hands help protect us against the virus?

The novel coronavirus can be spread in small particles produced by coughing, sneezing, talking and breathing, and are able to enter through your eyes, nose or mouth. We also know that the virus can survive for various periods (from hours to days) on different types of materials. So if you touch an infected surface, object or person, and then touch your face, you could risk infection. 

After months of guidance from health officials, including the CDC’s updated coronavirus guidelines, we know that regularly washing our hands with soap and water is an effective preventive method, but how exactly does it work? Well, according to scientists at Northeastern University, it’s a matter of simple chemistry. ‘In soap lather, a combination of molecules assemble into bubble-like structures called micelles that trap viral matter and other biomaterials—grease, oil, dirt—and rinse them down the drain.’

How to wash your hands properly

The type of hand washing we’re talking about here is more than just a quick rinse under the tap. You need to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or up to 40 seconds after removing a medical mask, now advised for all persons aged over 60, or a homemade face mask. Here’s an official CDC video on how to wash your hands properly, and why it matters… 

Hand washing, like wearing reusable fabric face masks (opens in new tab), is part of the ‘new normal’ until a coronavirus vaccine is available, so there’s no time like the present to learn how to wash your hands properly. Considering how many viruses we live with on a daily basis, especially during flu season, following proper hand hygiene is always a good call.

We talk more about hand washing in our guide to the common coronavirus questions (opens in new tab) answered by a doctor, including why adding one of the best digital thermometers (opens in new tab) to your first aid kit can help you spot one of the major coronavirus symptoms (opens in new tab), a fever.

If the Apple Watch and its bountiful health tracking benefits appeals to you, not to mention its super-comprehensive smarts for managing your daily schedule and keeping you up to date on text, email and voice calls to your smartphone (opens in new tab), then below we've rounded up today's best prices on the various generations of Apple's best-selling smartwatch.

Claire is Health and Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews and covers all aspects of health, wellbeing and personal care. With over 17 years' experience as a qualified journalist, writer and editor, Claire has worked across some of Future's most prestigious, market-leading brands. Due to past struggles with insomnia, she is particularly passionate about the role quality sleep plays in our physical and mental health, and loves helping readers to sleep better. Claire is always keen to hear from brands regarding products and services that can help readers feel healthy, happy and empowered.