What's the difference between wiping and washing hands?

I love Trader Joe's Super Amazing Reusable Kitchen Cloths. With a name like that, how can you not feel a little whimsical about cleaning your kitchen? They're equally helpful for drying produce or cleaning a milk spill. They're also great for wiping little hands and faces. They can be cleaned in the washing machine, and even though the instructions discourage machine-drying, the towels dry reasonably well with just a little shrinkage. 

But the other morning, as I was using a new bright orange one to wipe a few drops of milk and Alpha Bits off of D's hands, I started thinking about the difference between wiping hands and washing them. 

I'm not weighing in on debates about cleanliness here; with a two-year old, I assume that no method will keep him totally clean or free of germs. The far more important difference between wiping and washing, I think, is what each method teaches a child. Me wiping D's hands is certainly the faster method. It means milk is less likely to end up in his hair or mine. It means no drips on the floor between the high chair and sink. It means I probably won't need a new shirt until after our much-messier lunch. 

Kids get more than clean when they wash their own hands.

Kids get more than clean when they wash their own hands.

But it also means D won't drag his stepstool from the kitchen island to the sink. It means he won't have to squeeze soap onto his tiny palms. It means he won't decide to spend the next 20 minutes at the sink "helping" me wash the dishes I washed while he was eating breakfast. 

So this morning, at least, I'm prioritizing his autonomy over my convenience.