Wash Your Hands
Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself, your family, and others from getting sick.
Washing your hands with soap and water is simple and easy. More importantly, 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.
When should you wash your hands?
You can help yourself and others stay healthy by washing your hands often, especially during these key times when germs are likely to get on your hands and can easily spread to you or others:
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 get rid of germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer [423 KB] that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can tell if the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do NOT get rid of 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 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. This should take around 20 seconds.
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
Health Promotion & Education
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Publications, Data & Statistics
Global Handwashing Day
- Page last reviewed: April 2, 2018
- Page last updated: April 2, 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