Handwashing – Why, When, & How?

Why is it so important that we wash our hands?

Frequent and proper handwashing is one of the most important steps that we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects such as table tops, handrails, and office equipment. Without realizing it, we can touch a contaminated object and then touch our eyes, nose, or mouth allowing the germs to enter our body and make us sick. By preventing illness through proper handwashing, we can also prevent the overuse of antibiotics which leads to antibiotic resistance.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the restroom
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the restroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching a animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage


How should you wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap, making sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice)
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them

If you do not have access to soap and running water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands; however, they are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy and they may not remove harmful chemicals. When using hand sanitizers:

  • Apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to determine the correct amount)
  • Rub your hands together
  • Make sure to rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), educating communities about handwashing:

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%
  • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%
  • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%

To educate those in your area about the importance of hand washing, consider posting a flyer from the CDC in a high traffic area.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html