Hand-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. Find out when and how to wash your hands properly.
As you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. You can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth, or spread them to others. Although it's impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands with soap and water frequently can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
Always wash your hands before and after:
- Preparing and eating food
- Treating wounds or caring for a sick person
- Touching an item or surface that is frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, gas pumps or shopping carts
- Entering or leaving a public place
- Inserting or removing contact lenses
Always wash your hands after:
- Using the toilet, changing a diaper or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- Touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
- Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- Handling garbage
- Handling pet food or pet treats
Also, wash your hands when they are visibly dirty.
It's generally best to wash your hands with soap and water. Over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap.
Follow these steps:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water — either warm or cold.
- Apply soap and 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 towel or air-dry them.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don't require water, are an acceptable alternative when soap and water aren't available. If you use a hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60% alcohol. Follow these steps:
- Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand. Check the label to find out the appropriate amount.
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.
Help children stay healthy by encouraging them to wash their hands frequently. Wash your hands with your child to show him or her how it's done. To prevent rushing, suggest washing hands for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. If your child can't reach the sink on his or her own, keep a step stool handy.
Be sure to supervise young children using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Swallowing alcohol-based sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. Store the container safely away after use.
Hand-washing offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting this habit can play a major role in protecting your health.
Dec. 10, 2021
- When and how to wash your hands. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html. Accessed Nov. 23, 2021.
- Show me the science — Why wash your hands? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html. Accessed Nov. 23, 2021.
- Antibacterial soap? You can skip it, use plain soap and water. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/antibacterial-soap-you-can-skip-it-use-plain-soap-and-water. Accessed Nov. 23, 2021.