Hygiene & Handwashing
Good basic personal hygiene and handwashing are critical to help prevent the spread of illness and disease. Clean, safe running water is essential for proper hygiene and handwashing.
Hygiene is especially important in an emergency such as a flood, hurricane, or earthquake, but finding clean, safe running water can sometimes be difficult. The following information will help to ensure good hygiene and handwashing in the event of an emergency.
Before an emergency, make sure you have created an emergency supply kit. The CDC and the American Red Cross have prepared a shopping list of emergency water, hygiene, and sanitation supplies that should be contained in your kit.
Keeping hands clean during an emergency helps prevent the spread of germs. If your tap water is not safe to use, wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected. Follow these steps to make sure you wash your hands properly:
- 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 the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub 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 clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
A temporary Handwashing Station [PDF - 1 page] can be created by using a large water jug that contains clean water (for example, boiled or disinfected).
When Clean, Running Water is Not Available
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. 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 microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
Hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
How do you use hand sanitizers?
- 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.
When to Wash Hands
Wash hands with soap and clean, running water (if available):
- 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 handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
Other Hand Hygiene Resources
Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, or make ice.
Bathing after a water-related emergency should only be done with clean, safe water. Listen to local authorities for further instructions. Sometimes water that is not safe to drink can be used for bathing.
Brushing your teeth after a water-related emergency should only be done with clean, safe water. Listen to local authorities to find out if tap water is safe to use.
Visit the Safe Drinking Water for Personal Use page for more information about making your water safe for brushing your teeth.
Keeping wounds clean and covered is crucial during an emergency. If you have open cuts or sores, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean, safe water to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention.
Healthcare professionals should visit Emergency Wound Management for Healthcare Professionals and Management of Vibrio vulnificus Wound Infections After a Disaster.
- Cleaning and Sanitizing With Bleach After a Disaster or Emergency
(Information on how to keep surfaces clean to avoid the spread of germs)
- Flood Waters or Standing Waters
(Steps to protect yourself and your family from potentially-contaminated flood water)
- Guidelines for the Management of Acute Diarrhea (for Healthcare Providers)
(Acute diarrhea may occur in post-disaster situations where access to electricity, clean water, and sanitary facilities is limited)
- Other Water-Related Emergency Information and Resources
(CDC’s website dedicated to water needs before, during, and after disasters and emergencies)