Handwashing Facts

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Share these key handwashing messages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Healthy Schools, Healthy People, It's a SNAP project, activity or campaign you create for your school.

  • 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 or animal waste.
  • After touching garbage.
  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  2. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

  1. Apply the product to the palm of one hand.
  2. Rub your hands together.
  3. Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.

Cleaning hands at key times with soap and water or hand sanitizer is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to those around you. There are important differences between washing hands with soap and water and cleaning them with hand sanitizer. For example, alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t kill ALL types of germs, such as a stomach bug called norovirus, some parasites, and Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhea. Hand sanitizers also may not remove harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and heavy metals like lead. Handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs, pesticides, and metals on hands. Knowing when to clean your hands and which method to use will give you the best chance of preventing sickness.

CDC's printable fact sheet has additional tips.

Share these handwashing messages with your friends, family, school and community! You can also download and copy the bookmarks, brochures and posters.