Health Library

How to Wash Your Hands Properly

IMAGE Chances are you have been washing your own hands for quite a while. All it takes is a little soap and some water, right? Actually, there is a bit more to hand washing. Find out how to wash your hands correctly and why it matters so much.

Here's Why Washing Your Hands Is Important

The single most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick and to stop the spread of disease-causing germs is to wash your hands often. By frequently washing your hands, you wash away germs that you may have picked up from other people or from contaminated surfaces. One of the most common ways people catch colds and the flu is by rubbing their noses or eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold or flu virus. More frequent hand washing may be able to reduce the spread of the these viruses. Some studies show that when children are taught to carefully wash their hands school absenteeism is reduced, even more so when alcohol-based hand rubs are combined with hand washing.

You cannot see germs with the naked eye, so wash your hands often. Especially important times include:

  • When your hands are dirty
  • Before, during, and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat
  • After you use the bathroom
  • After you change a diaper
  • After handling animals or animal waste
  • After taking out the trash
  • After blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing
  • Before and after treating a wound
  • When caring for someone who is sick

Here's How

To properly wash your hands, follow these simple steps:

  • First, wet your hands with warm or cold water and apply soap.
  • Next, rub your hands together vigorously to create a lather. Scrub all surfaces of your hands, including the back of your hands, your wrists, and between your fingers. Also clean under your fingernails to help control germs. Keep fingernails trimmed and short.
  • Continue for at least 20 seconds or about the length of a little tune (for example: sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice). It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
  • Rinse your hands well and dry them with a clean paper towel, clean towel, or air dryer.
  • If possible, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.

Note: When soap is not readily available, alcohol-based hand rubs offer a quick and easy alternative. No water is needed. Just squirt some into the palm of your hand and rub your hands all over until they are dry. They are not the best option, however, when your hand are visibly dirty.

Resources

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

United States Department of Health and Human Services
http://www.hhs.gov

Canadian Resources

Canadian National Occupation Health and Safety Resource
http://www.ccohs.ca/

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index-eng.php

References

Guinan M, McGuckin M, Ali Y. The effect of a comprehensive handwashing program on absenteeism in elementary schools. Am J Infect Control. 2002 Jun;30(4):217-20.

Keeping your hands clean on a cruise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/pub/Handwashing/HandwashingTips.htm. Last updated July 20, 2010. Accessed December 15, 2010.

Wash your hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/features/handwashing/. Last updated December 15, 2010. Accessed December 15, 2010.

The SNAP Toolkit. School Network for Absenteeism Prevention website. available at: http://www.itsasnap.org/index.asp.