Wash Your Hands
Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick.
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.
When should you wash your hands?
Feces (poop) from people or animals is an important source of germs. A single gram of human feces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs. Help stop the spread of germs by washing your hands often, especially during key times listed below.
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- 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?
Follow the five steps below to wash your hands the right way every time.
- 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.
This video can also help you learn how to wash your hands the right way.
What should you do if you don't have soap and clean, running water?
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs 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 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 or greasy. Furthermore, hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals from hands. Be cautious when using hand sanitizers around children; swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning if a person swallows more than a couple mouthfuls.
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.
CDC's Handwashing Work
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings
- Water-related Hygiene
- Hand Hygiene to Help Prevent Flu
- Hand Hygiene During an Emergency
- Hand Hygiene Aboard Ships
Health Promotion & Education
- Health Promotion Materials
- Training & Education
- Our Partners
Publications, Data & Statistics
Global Handwashing Day
- Page last reviewed: December 5, 2016
- Page last updated: December 5, 2016
- Content source:
- National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs