The do’s and don’ts of hand-washing

VecteezyThis illustration shows the proper steps for washing your hands. Handwashing is an easy and important way to help prevent infection, inclduing COVID-19.

Hand-washing is an easy way to prevent infection. It is important to understand when to wash your hands and how to properly use hand sanitizer. Frequent hand-washing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness. Find out when and how to wash your hands properly.

You should wash your hands as you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. You can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth, or spread them to others. Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

Always wash your hands before

n Preparing food or eating

n Treating wounds or caring for a sick person

n Inserting or removing contact lenses

n Always wash your hands after:

n Preparing food

n Using the toilet, changing a diaper or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

n Touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste

n Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing

n Treating wounds or caring for a sick person

n Handling garbage

n Handling pet food or pet treats

n Also, wash your hands when they are visibly dirty.

How to wash your hands

It’s generally best to wash your hands with soap and water. Over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap.

Follow these steps:

n Wet your hands with clean, running water — either warm or cold.

n Apply soap and lather well.

n Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.

n Rinse well.

n Dry your hands with a clean towel or air-dry them.

How to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don’t require water, are an acceptable alternative when soap and water aren’t available. If you use a hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

Follow these steps:

n Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand. Check the label to find out the appropriate amount.

n Rub your hands together.

n Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.

n Be sure young children are supervised when using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Swallowing alcohol-based sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. Store the container safely away after use.

A simple way to stay healthy

Hand-washing offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting this habit can play a major role in protecting your health.

This article is written by Mayo Clinic Staff. Find more health and medical information on

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