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The Proper Way to Wash Your Hands

sudsy hands rinsing off in the sink

Washing your hands is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and stay healthy year-round. Not only are we protecting ourselves when we wash our hands, we’re also protecting everyone who we come into contact with.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a vigorous 20-second scrub with soap and warm water that extends beyond the hands to the wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails.

The are five steps to proper hand washing: wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry. Most people do these steps automatically, but small changes can help increase the effectiveness of your hand washing and maximize the removal of disease-causing germs.

How to best wash your hands

Here’s how to make sure you’re effectively washing your hands:

  • Wet your hands with clean, warm or cold running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap being sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds which is about the same amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used to clean your hands. When using this type of product:

  • Put the gel in the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry.

When to wash your hands 

In addition to recommendations on how to properly wash your hands, there are also important guidelines for when to wash your hands. Here are 10 activities that should be followed by proper hand washing:

  • 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

If you’d like to understand the science behind the hand washing recommendations, the CDC website offers a synopsis of the studies on which the recommendations are based.

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