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Handwashing

What is the best way to wash my hands?

At home or work, wash your hands often—and properly:

  • Use clean, running water. Use warm water if it's available.

  • Wet your hands before applying soap.

  • Rub your soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to wash all surfaces well. This includes your wrists, palms, backs of hands, and between fingers.

  • Clean and remove the dirt from under your fingernails.

  • Rinse your hands thoroughly to remove all soap.

  • Dry your hands with an air dryer or a clean paper towel.

  • Turn off the faucet with a paper towel.

If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used to clean your hands. When using this type of product:

  • Apply the gel to the palm of one hand.

  • Rub your hands together.

  • Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry.

How often should I wash my hands?

Hands should be washed often—more often than most adults and children actually do. Bacteria and other germs can only be seen under a microscope. So they can be anywhere. According to the CDC, it is especially important to wash your hands:

  • Before preparing food

  • Before meals

  • Before and after treating an open sore, cut, or wound

  • After using the restroom

  • After touching animals or animal waste

  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the restroom

  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • After handling garbage

  • When hands are dirty

  • When someone around you is ill

What is the difference between cleaning and disinfecting?

Cleaning and disinfecting are two different things. Cleaning simply means using soap and water to remove dirt and most germs. Disinfecting means using cleaning solutions that have ingredients that kill bacteria and other germs. Many surfaces look clean, but may be contaminated with germs.

The CDC recommends the following when cleaning or disinfecting:

  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning up blood, vomit, or feces.

  • Wear rubber gloves when you have cuts or scrapes on your hand that make it easy for an infection to enter your body. 

  • Read the directions on the cleaning product label, including the safety information.

  • First, clean the surface with soap (or another cleaner) and water. Note: Always store cleaning solutions and other household chemicals in their original containers. Keep them out of children's reach.

  • Second, use a disinfectant on the surface. Leave it on for a few minutes, depending on the manufacturer's directions.

  • Third, wipe the surface dry with a paper towel and throw the paper towel away. Or use a cloth towel that is washed afterward.

  • Fourth, wash your hands well, even after wearing gloves.

The 2 most important household areas to clean and disinfect properly are the kitchen and the bathroom. In the kitchen, bacteria from raw food can contaminate surfaces and food prep areas. Without proper cleaning, this can spread disease. Other important areas that require proper cleaning include children's changing tables and diaper pails.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Lentnek, Arnold, MD
  • Sather, Rita, RN