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Hand Washing 101

Hand Washing 101

Hand washing is one of the most important and effective steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting sick and to reduce the spread of germs to others.


Here’s a brief refresher on proper hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers, courtesy of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Germs can get into the body through our eyes, nose, and mouth and make us sick. Hand washing with soap removes germs from hands and helps prevent sickness. Studies have shown that hand washing can prevent 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu and 1 in 3 diarrhea-related sicknesses.1

Hand washing helps prevent infections for these reasons:

  • People often touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without realizing it, introducing germs into their bodies.
  • Germs from unwashed hands may get into foods and drinks when people prepare or consume them. Germs can grow in some types of foods or drinks and make people sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, such as doorknobs, tables, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.1

What type of soap should you use?

You can use bar soap or liquid soap to wash your hands. Many public places provide liquid soap because it’s easier and cleaner to share with others. Studies have not found any added health benefit from using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients when compared with plain soap. Both are equally effective in getting rid of germs.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Hand sanitizer is NOT a replacement for soap and water and should only be used when soap and water are not available.1

How do you properly wash your hands?

Believe it or not, there is a right way and wrong way to wash your hands! Washing your hands improperly can spread germs to you and others.2

  1. Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.
  3. Scrub all surfaces of your hands, including the palms, backs, fingers, between your fingers, and under your nails. Keep scrubbing for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  4. Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

What about hand sanitizer? Is there a correct way to use hand sanitizer?

You bet! While washing with soap and water is the best line of defense, there are situations where soap and water are not available. When using hand sanitizer, make sure it’s alcohol-based and contains at least 60% alcohol.2

  1. Make sure you apply enough hand sanitizer to completely cover all surfaces of your hands.
  2. Manually rub your hands together until your hands feel dry, usually around 20 seconds.
  3. Do not rinse or wipe off hand sanitizer as this makes it less effective.

Hand sanitizer is NOT a replacement for soap and water and should only be used when soap and water are not available. When you use hand sanitizer, you should still plan to wash with soap and water as soon as you are able to.

When should you use soap and water vs. hand sanitizer?

Courtesy of the CDC’s hand washing and hand sanitizer fact sheet, found here:

For more information on hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, visit the CDC’s hand washing website here:


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References and credit: CDC- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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