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What is the best way to wash my hands?

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

  • Use clean, running water. The water can be warm or cold; either works well.

  • Wet your hands before applying soap.

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

  • Clean under your fingernails and remove any dirt.

  • 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 that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used to clean your hands. When using this type of product:

  • Put the sanitizer in the palm of one hand.

  • Rub your hands together.

  • Rub the sanitizer over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry. This takes about 20 seconds.

How often should I wash my hands?

Hands should be washed often. This means 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 bathroom

  • After touching animals or animal waste

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

  • 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 2 different things. Cleaning 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 they may be contaminated with germs.

The CDC recommends the following when cleaning or disinfecting:

  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning up blood, vomit, or stool.

  • Wear disposable 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 correctly are the kitchen and bathroom. In the kitchen, bacteria from raw food can contaminate surfaces and food prep areas. Without correct cleaning, this can spread disease. Other important areas that need correct cleaning include children's changing tables and diaper pails.

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
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