Hand Washing

Why is hand washing important?

Washing your hands removes bacteria and viruses that can cause an infection. Bacteria and viruses can live on any surface, such as equipment, toys, furniture and floors. They can also live on our skin and in our body fluids. Some bacteria are a healthy, normal part of our bodies. Other bacteria and viruses may cause infections. Some infections can be hard to treat. Hand washing helps prevent the spread of infections to ourselves and to other people.

If you don’t have soap and water, you can clean your hands by wiping them well with an alcohol-based, gel hand cleaner (hand sanitizer).

When should I wash my hands?

Hand washing is important at home, at school, at work, and in other public places. It is especially important in healthcare facilities, such as healthcare provider offices, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Wash your hands before you:

  • Prepare food, eat, or drink
  • Give or take medicine or put anything else in your mouth or someone else’s mouth
  • Put anything in your eyes, like contact lenses or eyedrops
  • Take care of another person, such as changing diapers, giving medicine, or cleaning a wound

Wash your hands after you:

  • Cough, sneeze, or blow your nose
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Touch any public surfaces, such as doorknobs, railings, telephones, money, elevator buttons, and grocery carts
  • Touch trash, raw food, or animals
  • Take care of another person, such as changing diapers, giving medicine, or cleaning a wound

If you are helping a sick person or handling dirty items, you might need to wear gloves. This is especially important if you will be exposed to:

  • Blood or other body fluids, such as saliva, mucus, and urine
  • Sores or rashes
  • Equipment that may be contaminated

If you are using gloves, wash your hands and dry them well before you put the gloves on. Wash and dry your hands again after you remove the gloves (in case there is a hole or tear in the gloves).

How do I wash my hands?

  • Wet your hands with running water and add soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a good lather. Scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Keep rubbing your hands together for 20 seconds. Twenty seconds is about how long it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song or the “ABC” song.
  • Rinse all of the soap off your hands under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet. Also use it to open the door if you are in a public restroom.

How should I use a hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizers do not remove dirt or other things on the hands, but they do help kill germs. Hand sanitizers must be at least 60% alcohol in order to do a good job of killing germs. Many types of hand sanitizers are available in your local grocery or drug stores. They are available as gels, foams, or liquids. To use them you should:

  • Put the sanitizer in the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the sanitizer over all of the surfaces of your hands and fingers.
  • Let the sanitizer air dry before you touch anything else.
  • Always read the label for additional instructions.

For more information on hand washing, see: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HandHygiene.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-11-06
Last reviewed: 2013-09-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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