Effective Handwashing: Learn. Teach. Repeat.Posted on by
May 5 is World Hand Hygiene Day.
Of all the practical skills and lessons, learning to protect your health in a public health emergency or a natural disaster by teaching and practicing effective handwashing is the most important. Clean hands are essential to health, whether in an emergency or day-to-day life. Start making handwashing a practical skill today so that, no matter the occasion, everyone stays healthy.
Learn why handwashing and hand hygiene are important
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of germs, especially during a public health pandemic like Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Washing your hands is easy! It takes about 20 seconds to do and is one of the best ways to prevent spreading germs from person to person.
- Wet your hands with safe water (warm or cold) 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 the water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
What if soap and water are unavailable?
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. Take the following steps when using hand sanitizer:
- Apply the product on the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount to use).
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands, including in between fingers.
- Allow your hands to dry completely before touching anything.
Hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations, but they do not eliminate all types of germs. Hand sanitizers can be an effective alternative to handwashing against COVID-19, but handwashing should always be the first choice if soap and water are available.
Keep Hand Sanitizers Away from Young Children
Swallowing hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. In fact, U.S. Poison Control Centers received nearly 85,000 calls related to hand sanitizer exposure in children from 2011 through 2015.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers should keep hand sanitizers away from children, especially children younger than 5 years old. Younger children are more likely to be attracted to hand sanitizers that are scented, brightly colored, or nicely packaged.
Learn more by visiting CDC’s Show Me the Science – When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer webpage.
There are steps you can take to prepare before a public health emergency. One way to stay ahead is to build an emergency supply kit that includes personal hygiene items, such as:
- Soap (liquid or bar works fine)
- Disinfectants and information on how to use them (also available in Spanish)
- Hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol
Young children learn by imitating the behaviors of adults in their lives. When you make handwashing and hygiene part of your routine, you’re setting an example for your children to follow.
How to teach toddlers to wash their hands
Adults can explain handwashing to young kids in a practical way and using language they can understand.
By the age of three, most children know the words to the “Happy Birthday” song, which takes 20 seconds to sing twice. So…
- Provide them with a step stool that allows them to reach the sink.
- Show them how to thoroughly wet their hands.
- Show them how to lather their hands, covering the front, back, and in between their fingers
- Sing it loud and proud. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Parker, happy birthday to you.” Then sing it one more time!
- Show them how to rinse their hands well under running water.
- Show them how to dry their hands using a clean towel.
Give frequent reminders
Building new habits takes time and commitment, but once children develop them, they carry those habits with them throughout life. At first, your child will need regular reminders to wash their hands properly and throughout the day, especially:
- After using the toilet
- Before eating
- After touching pets
- After playing outside
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose
Clean hands are essential to health, whether in an emergency or day-to-day life. Start making handwashing a practical skill today so that, no matter the occasion, everyone stays healthy.
Lead by Example
Be a preparedness role model for your family and your community. Modeling healthy habits like regularly washing your hands can inspire others in your home and community to do the same. You never know who’s watching, including your kids.
How Often is Often Enough?
Washing your hands often isn’t about sticking to a schedule or the number of times you do so each day. It’s about reducing the number of germs we carry after touching or coming into contact with something that may carry an increased number of germs. This is why handwashing during key times is critical.
However, regular handwashing outside of these key times is also important. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you can also consider cleaning hands:
- After you have been in a public place and touched an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens, etc.
- Before touching our eyes, nose, or mouth because that’s how germs enter our bodies.
- Build A Kit
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Steps to Prevent Illness
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- COVID-19 and Water
- Make Water Safe
- Making Water Safe in an Emergency
Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.
Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.
- Page last reviewed:May 6, 2020
- Page last updated:May 6, 2020
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