Hand-washing: Do's and don'tsHand-washing is an easy way to prevent infection. Understand when to wash your hands, how to properly use hand sanitizer and how to get your children into the habit.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Frequent hand-washing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness. Hand-washing requires only soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer — a cleanser that doesn't require water. Find out when and how to wash your hands properly.
When to wash your hands
As you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Although it's impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
Always wash your hands before:
- Preparing food or eating
- Treating wounds, giving medicine, or caring for a sick or injured person
- Inserting or removing contact lenses
Always wash your hands after:
- Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
- Using the toilet or changing a diaper
- Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes, or waste
- Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands
- Treating wounds or caring for a sick or injured person
- Handling garbage, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated — such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes
In addition, wash your hands whenever they look dirty.
How to wash your hands
It's generally best to wash your hands with soap and water. Follow these simple steps:
- Wet your hands with running water.
- Apply liquid, bar or powder soap.
- Lather well.
- Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
- Rinse well.
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
- If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet.
Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future.
Oct. 15, 2011
See more In-depth
- Wash your hands. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HandWashing. Accessed July 14, 2011.
- Understanding microbes in sickness and in health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/microbes/PDF/microbesbook.pdf. Accessed July 14, 2011.
- Jefferson T, et al. Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011;7:CD006207. http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab006207.html. Accessed July 14, 2011.
- D'Antonio NN, et al. Revisiting the hand wipe versus gel rub debate: Is a higher-ethanol content hand wipe more effective than an ethanol gel rub? American Journal of Infection Control. 2010;38:678.
- Aiello AE, et al. Consumer antibacterial soaps: Effective or just risky? Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2007;45:S137.
- Kinnula S, et al. Safety of alcohol hand gel use among children and personnel at a child day care center. American Journal of Infection Control. 2009;37:318.