Sick of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ while washing hands to fight coronavirus? Try these pop hits instead

Share via

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the country, health officials say handwashing is one of the best ways people can protect themselves. After using the bathroom, touching your face or sneezing and before eating, scrub with soap and water for 20 seconds — or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

“There are some studies that have shown us that the amount of microbes on your hands is reduced more when you wash your hands for longer,” says Janet Baseman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. The detergent in soap removes microbes from your hands, and the longer you scrub the more microbes it can remove, she says.

But if the coronavirus sticks around for a while (as it’s expected to), and “Happy Birthday” becomes an irritable earworm rather a helpful handwashing tune, try mixing it up. Here are the choruses of 10 songs that take about 20 seconds to sing while you scrub.


Prince, “Raspberry Beret”
This 1985 Prince classic about young romance and thrift-shop fashion turns out to have a great tempo to clean your hands to.

Handwashing chorus: “She wore a raspberry beret / The kind you find in a secondhand store / Raspberry beret / And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more / Raspberry beret / I think I love her”

Beyoncé, “Love on Top”
At the end of “Love on Top,” Beyoncé demonstrates her legendary range by belting the chorus four times in increasingly high keys. You only have to sing the chorus once, in the key of your choice, to time 20 seconds of handwashing.

Handwashing chorus: “Baby it’s you / You’re the one I love / You’re the one I need / You’re the only one I see / Come on baby it’s you / You’re the one that gives your all / You’re the one I can always call / When I need to make everything stop / Finally you put my love on top”

Dolly Parton, “Jolene”
Dolly is having a moment. With her Netflix series “Heartstrings” and the hit podcast “Dolly Parton’s America,” her classic country song “Jolene” has filled the airwaves, and it could bolster hygiene as well.

Handwashing chorus: “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / I’m begging of you please don’t take my man / Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / Please don’t take him just because you can”

Toto, “Africa”
The beloved 1981 song by Toto has taken on a new life on the internet in recent years, inspiring praise, memes and piano tutorials. It could inspire people to wash their hands too.

Handwashing chorus: “It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you / There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do / I bless the rains down in Africa / Gonna take some time to do the things we never had”

Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”
Last year, Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” became the longest-running Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 by a solo female rapper. With its roughly 20-second chorus, it may have blown up just in time to become 2020’s handwashing soundtrack.

Handwashing chorus: “Why men great ‘til they gotta be great? / Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face / Best friend sat me down in the salon chair / Shampoo press, get you out of my hair / Fresh photos with the bomb lighting / New man on the Minnesota Vikings / Truth hurts, needed something more exciting / Bom bom bi dom bi dum bum bay”

Fleetwood Mac, “Landslide”
The Stevie Nicks classic helped launch Fleetwood Mac toward fame. Covers by the Dixie Chicks and Smashing Pumpkins also have choruses of around 20 seconds, so there’s a version to match any mood you’re in while washing.

Handwashing chorus: “Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’ / ‘Cause I’ve built my life around you / But time makes you bolder / Even children get older / And I’m gettin’ older too”


Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
Eminem wrote the 2002 single “Lose Yourself” for the movie “8 Mile,” and the song went on to win an Academy Award and a Grammy. Its commanding lyrics have made it popular with weightlifters at the gym, and its 20-second chorus makes it ideal at the sink.

Handwashing chorus: “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment / You own it, you better never let it go / You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes once in a lifetime / You better lose yourself in the music, the moment / You own it, you better never let it go / You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes once in a lifetime”

Natasha Bedingfield, “Unwritten”
Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” is the famous theme song of the early-aughts reality show “The Hills.” Bedingfield recently released a revamped and sped-up version of the song for the show’s reboot. But only the slower original has the ideal cadence and chorus length to time proper handwashing.

Handwashing chorus: “Feel the rain on your skin / No one else can feel it for you / Only you can let it in / No one else, no one else / Can speak the words on your lips / Drench yourself in words unspoken / Live your life with arms wide open / Today is where your book begins / The rest is still unwritten”

Belinda Carlisle, “Heaven on Earth”
After achieving pop stardom with the Go-Go’s, Belinda Carlisle went on to top the charts on her own. “Heaven on Earth” is a dramatic, romantic manifestation of ’80s pop that could become a 2020 anthem of virus prevention.

Handwashing chorus: “Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth? / Ooh, heaven is a place on Earth / They say in heaven love comes first / We’ll make heaven a place on Earth / Ooh, heaven is a place on Earth”

Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”
There’s no rule against dancing while you wash your hands.

Handwashing chorus: “Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon / You come and go, you come and go / Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams / Red, gold and green, red, gold and green”