Handwashing, Hygiene, and Diapering
Good personal hygiene, thorough handwashing, and safe diapering practices are critical to helping prevent the spread of illness and disease in emergency situations. Hygiene is especially important in an emergency such as a flood, hurricane, or earthquake, but finding clean, safe running water can sometimes be difficult.
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 made safe to use. See the handwashing section below for more information on how to keep hands clean during an emergency.
How should you wash your hands?
- 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.
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 and might not remove harmful chemicals.
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.
Caution! Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. Keep it out of reach of young children. Learn more here.
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 handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
Other Hand Hygiene Resources
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 in the event of an emergency.
Bathing or showering after a water-related emergency should only be done with clean, safe water. Sometimes water that is not safe to drink can be used for bathing, but be careful not to swallow any water or get it in your eyes. Do not bathe in water that may be contaminated with sewage or toxic chemicals. This includes rivers, streams, or lakes that are contaminated by flood water.
If you have a drinking water well, listen to your local health authorities for advice on using your well water for showering and bathing. If extensive flooding has occurred or you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local, state, or tribal health department for specific advice on well testing and disinfection.
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 Making Water Safe in an Emergency for more information about making your water safe for brushing your teeth.
Keeping wounds clean and covered is crucial during an emergency. Open wounds and rashes exposed to flood water can become infected 1. To protect yourself and your family:
- Avoid contact with flood waters if you have an open wound.
- Cover clean, open wounds with a waterproof bandage to reduce chance of infection.
- Keep open wounds as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean water.
- If a wound develops redness, swelling, or oozing, seek immediate medical care.
- Vibrios are naturally occurring bacteria that live in certain coastal waters. They can cause a skin infection when an open wound is exposed to salt water or a mix of salt and fresh water, which can occur during floods.
The risk for injury during and after a hurricane and other natural disasters is high. Prompt first aid can help heal small wounds and prevent infection. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after providing first aid for a wound to help prevent infection. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% if soap and water are not available. Tetanus, other bacterial infections, and fungal infections are potential health threats for persons who have open wounds.
Visit Emergency Wound Care After a Natural Disaster and listen to the short PSA Emergency Wound Care after a Disaster to find complete information on caring for wounds.
Healthcare professionals should visit Emergency Wound Management for Healthcare Professionals and Management of Vibrio vulnificus Wound Infections After a Disaster.
- CDC. Vibrio illnesses after Hurricane Katrina — multiple states, August-September 2005. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2005;54(37):928-31.
Additional Hygiene Information
Additional Hygiene Information
- Household Cleaning & Sanitizing. 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.
In emergency situations, making sure that diaper changing practices remain hygienic is essential to reducing the spread of germs. Even a microscopic amount of fecal matter can contain millions of germs. CDC has developed guidelines and checklists to help parents, childcare providers, emergency responders, and others learn how to practice safe and germ-free diaper changing in emergency situations.
- Page last reviewed: December 13, 2017
- Page last updated: December 13, 2017
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