Keeping Hands Clean

Handwashing and Hand Sanitizers

Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in many parts of the world, use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.

When should you wash your hands?

	girl wiping nose after sneezing

  • 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
How should you wash your hands?
washing hands under running water
  • 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.

 magnifying glassWhy? Read the science behind the recommendations.

What should you do if you don’t have soap and clean, running water?
hand sanitizer

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.

For more information on keeping hands clean, visit CDC’s Handwashing page and Wash Your Hands feature.

Proper hand hygiene in health care settings is integral to the prevention of infections. CDC has a number of resources for health care providers, including guidelines for proper hand hygiene Cdc-pdf[PDF – 56 pages] and an interactive training course on standards to prevent healthcare-associated infections. To learn more, please visit CDC’s Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings page.

Good health habits for preventing seasonal flu include proper handwashing to help stop the spread of germs at home, work, and school. For more information, please visit CDC’s Good Health Habits for Preventing Seasonal Flu page.

After an emergency, finding running water can be difficult. However, keeping your hands clean can help you avoid getting sick. For more information and resources on handwashing after an emergency, please visit the Hygiene and Handwashing (for Water-related Emergencies and Outbreaks) page.

Good hand hygiene is one of the most critical control strategies in outbreak management on board ships and cruises. To learn more, please visit CDC’s Keeping Your Hands Clean on a Cruise page.

Page last reviewed: July 26, 2016