Wash Your Hands
Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick. Learn when and how you should wash your hands to stay healthy.
Wash Your Hands Often to Stay Healthy
You can help yourself and others stay healthy by washing your hands often, especially during these key times when you are likely to get and spread germs:
- 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 blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After touching garbage.
Follow Five Steps to Wash Your Hands the Right Way
Washing your hands is easy, and it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community—from your home and workplace to childcare facilities and hospitals.
Follow these five steps 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. 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.
Use Hand Sanitizer Only When You Can’t Use Soap and Water
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer [423 KB] that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. You can tell if the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label.
Remember these key facts about alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations.
- Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.
- Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
- Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals.
- Be cautious when using hand sanitizers around children. Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning if more than a couple mouthfuls is swallowed.
How to Use Hand Sanitizer
- Apply the gel to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the gel over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.
For more information on handwashing, please visit CDC’s Handwashing website. You can also call 1-800-CDC-INFO or contact CDC-INFO for answers to specific questions.
CDC’s Handwashing Work
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- Hand Hygiene to Help Prevent Flu
- Hand Hygiene During an Emergency
- Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings
- Water-related Hygiene
- Hand Hygiene Aboard Ships
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Global Handwashing Day
- Page last reviewed: December 6, 2018
- Page last updated: December 6, 2018
- 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