Washing your hands with soap and water can have a major impact on health. Washing your hands properly has been shown to reduce diarrheal disease-associated deaths, foodborne illnesses and outbreaks, respiratory infections, and absences from school and work. Taking this simple step is a way you can take an active role in your health and the health of your family. You get germs on your hands throughout the day by just going about your daily routine. These germs can make you ill. Some of the germs you have on your hands can cause conditions like norovirus (stomach bug). It is important to wash your hands regularly to help decrease your chances of getting sick. Below you will find information on recommended times to wash your hands.


You should 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 used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal food, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage


Knowing when to wash your hands is important, but just as important is understanding the proper way to wash your hands and doing so correctly every time. If you don’t clean your hands correctly you will not get rid of all the germs.  Follow the 5 steps below to remove the most germs from your hands.


5 Steps to washing your hands:

  1. Wet with clean, running water. This can be warm or cold. Turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather by rubbing your hands together with soap. Be sure to lather:
    • The backs of your hands
    • Between your fingers
    • Under your nails
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Hum “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice while scrubbing.
  4. Rinse under clean, running water.
  5. Dry using a towel or air dry.


Besides washing your hands with soap and water there are times that you may choose to use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers can work if they have high enough alcohol content (those with 60% of more) and are used correctly, but they do not eliminate all the germs that soap and water can. In addition, hand sanitizers may not work if hands are visibility dirty. In these instances hand washing is still the best practice. To clean hands with sanitizer use enough to cover all surfaces of hand, rub hands until they feel dry—about 20 seconds. Don’t rinse or wipe off hand sanitizer before the sanitizer has dried.


As a final note, teach your kids proper hand washing skills. Starting children off knowing the appropriate times and correct way to wash hands will help to improve their lifelong health. This can assist with decreasing absences from school due to illness, which can also help decrease your absences from work to take care of an ill child. However, more needs to be done then just teaching the right way and times, modeling and reminders are important for children.


For more information visit www.cdc.gov/handwashing


Submitted by: Brittany Fry, BS, MPH, Burnett County DHHS Public Health Specialist

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