Learning About Hand-Washing

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Hand-washing with soap and water

What is hand-washing?

Hand-washing is more than just running water over your hands. Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infections. It helps prevent diseases, such as colds, flu, and food poisoning. It's easy. It doesn't cost much. And it works.

When should you wash your hands?

Wash your hands:

  • Often, especially during cold and flu season. This can reduce your risk of catching or spreading a cold or the flu.
  • Before, during, and after you prepare food. This reduces your risk of catching or spreading bacteria that cause food poisoning. Be especially careful to wash before and after you prepare poultry, raw eggs, meat, or seafood.
  • Before and after you care for someone who is sick. It's also important to wash your hands before and after you treat a cut or wound.
  • Before you eat.

Wash your hands after you:

  • Go to the bathroom or change diapers. This reduces your risk of catching or spreading diseases such as salmonella or hepatitis A.
  • Cough, sneeze, or blow your nose.
  • Handle or prepare foods, especially after you touch raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs.
  • Touch an animal, animal waste, pet food, or pet treats.
  • Handle garbage, use the phone, or shake hands.

What's the best way to wash your hands?

You can wash your hands so that it kills the most germs. Just follow these simple steps.

  1. Wet your hands with running water, and apply soap.
  2. Rub your hands together to make a lather. Scrub well for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. Use a clean towel to dry your hands, or air-dry your hands. You may want to use a clean towel as a barrier between the faucet and your clean hands when you turn off the water.

If soap and water are not available, you can use a hand sanitizer or alcohol-based hand wipes that contain at least 60% ethyl alcohol or isopropanol. The alcohol kills many types of germs on your hands, but it doesn't get rid of all types of germs.

When you can see dirt on your hands, or if your hands are greasy, it's better to wash with soap and water.

If you use sanitizer, put some on your hand and then rub your hands and fingers until they are dry. You don't need to use water.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter E137 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Hand-Washing".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.