Wash Your Hands
Handwashing is easy to do and it's one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness in all settings—from your home and workplace to child care facilities and hospitals. Clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community.
Learn more about when and how to wash your hands.
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 toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After touching garbage
What is the right way to wash your hands?
- Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. If soap and water are not available, 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 in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty.
How should you use hand sanitizer?
- Apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.
CDC's Handwashing Work
- Water-related Hygiene
- Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings
- Hand Hygiene to Help Prevent Flu
- Hand Hygiene During an Emergency
- Hand Hygiene Aboard Ships
Resources and Publications
Videos, Podcasts, e-Cards, posters, and fact sheets
- “A Minute of Health: Clean Hands, Healthy Body” [PODCAST – 0:59 seconds]
- “A Cup of Health: Clean Hands, Healthy Body” [PODCAST – 4:24 minutes]
- "Put Your Hands Together" [VIDEO – 3:38 minutes]
- "Living in a Clean and Healthy World" [PODCAST – 4:12 minutes]
- "All You Have to Do is Wash Your Hands" [PODCAST – 3:10 minutes]
- "Wash Your Hands!" [PSA – 0:30 seconds]
- "Happy Handwashing' Song [PODCAST – 0:50 minutes]
- Handwashing e-cards
- Handwashing after Visiting an Animal Exhibit poster (in English, Spanish, and French)
- Handwashing after Touching Ducklings or Chicks poster (in English, Spanish, and French)
- Handwashing after Touching Amphibians and Reptiles poster (in English, Spanish, and French)
- "Don't Let What Happened to Me, Happen to You" poster (FDA) [PDF - 2.87 MB]
- Handwashing: A Family Activity fact sheet
- Handwashing: A Corporate Activity fact sheet
- Improving Child Development: A New CDC Handwashing Study Shows Promising Results fact sheet
Webpages and Publications
- BAM! Body and Mind, Teachers Corner, Hand washing experiment
- Cover Your Cough
- Preventing the Flu: Good Health Habits Can Prevent Germs
- Healthy Habits Keep You Well
- Measures to Prevent Diseases Associated with Animals [PDF - 1.33 MB]
Handwashing Partnerships and Campaigns
Global Handwashing Day
- Fewtrell L, Kaufmann RB, Kay D, Enanoria W, Haller L, Colford, JM., Jr. Water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions to reduce diarrhea in less developed countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infect Dis. 2005 Jan;5(1):42-52.
- Curtis V, Cairncross S. Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhoea risk in the community: a systematic review. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Vol. 3, May 2003, pp 275-281. Lancet Infect Dis. 2003 May;3(5):275-81.
- WELL Fact Sheet
- UNICEF, State of the World's Children, 2008.
- Liu P, Macinga DR, Fernandez, ML, Zapka C, Hsiao H, Berger B, Arbogast JW, Moe CL. Comparison of the activity of alcohol-based handrubs against human noroviruses using the fingerpad method and quantitative real-time PCR. Food Environ Virol. 2011 Mar;3(1):35-42.
Get email updates
To receive email updates about this page, enter your email address:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
TTY: (888) 232-6348
- Contact CDC-INFO