It's that life lesson that came right after potty training: how to wash your hands.

In the wake of the H1N1 swine flu outbreak, the most basic form of personal hygiene is being stressed more than ever.

Maxine Hinze, faculty coordinator of the Fundamentals of Nursing course at UF, says most people don't wash their hands properly.

"Some people think they wash their hands, but really they just pass them under water," she says.

But simple steps can make the difference between rinsing and washing.

Move your jewelry

Push your watch up your arm. Hinze said health care workers are encouraged to not wear jewelry to keep from trapping germs.

Wet your hands and then use soap. Run your hands under warm water before applying soap.

Scrub all surfaces

"Friction is important," Hinze said. Rub your hands together in circular motions, like you're making a figure 8. Interlace your fingers to make sure you clean all sides. Be sure not to touch the inside of the sink at any point.

Pay attention to your fingers

Because your fingertips are the most contaminated, keep them angled downward.

Hinze's students use a powder called Glo-Germ to see what areas they might have missed while cleaning and under a black light. Around and under the nails tend to glow the most. You might want to consider keeping your natural nails short and not wearing fake nails because they can harbor bacteria.

Sing your ABCs

Washing your hands should take about 20 seconds. To make sure you're scrubbing for long enough, sing the alphabet song in your head.

Use paper towels. After rinsing your hands, dry them with a paper towel. Hinze and other health care workers say to use a fresh paper towel to turn the water off to prevent from touching the unclean faucet.

"It's just automatic with me," she said.

Don't depend on substitutes

While the ethanol in the instant hand sanitizer gels is a good disinfectant, it does not kill germs immediately, according to Paul Gulig, course director of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the UF College of Medicine.

Gulig recommends people wash their hands and then use hand sanitizer, if they'd like.

"Get rid of the dirt and bulk of germs first by washing, and then the sanitizer will have an easier time finishing off the rest," he said in an e-mail.

Wash them frequently

Always wash your hands after you go the bathroom and before you handle food.

The Centers for Disease Control's site on handwashing also recommends it after touching trash, animals, diapers and sick people. If you blow your nose or cough or sneeze into your hand, you should wash your hands as well.

While proper handwashing is essential, it is not the most important part of preventing the spread of viruses like swine flu. Infected people should stay home, and everyone should be vaccinated, Gulig said.

"If I could snap my fingers and change human behavior to deal with this epidemic," he said, "I would have people stay home when they're sick because of respiratory spread of the virus."