Clean hands make a healthy difference

We offer tips on how and why to keep your hands clean.

December 1, 2020


Germs are everywhere. They are in and on our bodies and on every surface we touch. That’s why regular handwashing is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself — and others — from getting sick. 

Lessening how many people get sick also lowers the amount of antibiotics people need to take. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing can stop:

  • About 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses
  • About 20% of respiratory infections, such as colds

With flu season upon us, it’s even more important to wash your hands often throughout the day. Here are some facts to know and pass along about hand hygiene. Cleaning your hands at the right time and in the right way helps everyone.

When to wash your hands

Use these guidelines:  

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • Before touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Before and after taking care of a cut or wound or helping someone who's sick
  • After touching your face mask or face covering
  • After using the restroom
  • After changing diapers
  • After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
  • After touching garbage 

Speak up for clean hands

When you visit a clinic, hospital or other health care setting, you raise your chances of getting an infection while you're getting care for something else. 

Patients and their loved ones can help by asking and reminding health care providers to clean their hands. Health care providers should clean their hands every time they enter the room and when they remove gloves.

Protect yourself by asking questions

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Clean your own hands and ask those around you to do the same.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your voice: It’s OK to ask your health care provider questions, such as: “I didn’t see you clean your hands when you came in, would you mind cleaning them before my exam?” or “I’m worried about germs spreading in the clinic. Will you please clean your hands before you start my treatment?”
  • Remind your loved ones to clean their hands by asking: “Would you please wash your hands before dinner?”

Soap or hand sanitizer?

Washing your hands with soap and water is the preferred method to reduce most types of germs. When soap and water aren’t available and your hands aren't visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is acceptable. 

Sanitizers work well in many situations, but don’t get rid of all types of germs. Sanitizers also don’t clean hands effectively if they are visibly dirty or greasy. They also may not remove harmful chemicals like pesticides.

How to clean your hands with soap and water

Follow these steps:

  • Wet your hands with warm water. Use liquid soap, if possible. Put a nickel- or quarter-sized amount of soap on your hands.
  • Rub your hands together until the soap forms a lather and then rub all over the top of your hands, in between your fingers and the area around and under the fingernails.
  • Keep rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel, if possible. Then, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open the door, if needed.

How to clean your hands with hand sanitizer

Follow these steps for about 20 seconds with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer: 

  • Put product on hands and rub hands together
  • Rub all surfaces until hands feel dry
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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.