PREVENTION: HAND WASHING

Learn what you don’t know about proper hand washing techniques.

What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting germs and the influenza virus?

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. CDC recommends that when you wash your hands with soap and warm water, it should last 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. If using gel, rub your hands for 20 seconds or until your hands feel dry, whichever is longest. The gel does not need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands. However, wash your hands with soap and water whenever possible.

washing hands 

Why isn’t it enough to wash with water alone?

Washing hands with water alone, a common practice, is significantly less effective than washing hands with soap. Using soap helps with the breakdown of grease and dirt that carry most germs. Through the use of soap and by rubbing hands together, the friction helps dislodge the grease and dirt.

What type of soap should be used?

Any type of soap may be used. However, bar soap should be kept in a self draining holder that is cleaned thoroughly before new bars are put out. Liquid soap containers should be used until empty and cleaned before refilling. To prevent chapping, use a mild soap with warm water, pat rather than rub hands dry and apply lotion liberally and frequently.

How do I use alcohol-based hand sanitizers?

• Dirt should be removed from your hands. Alcohol based hand disinfectants work best on clean dirt free skin.
• If your hands are wet, carefully dry them first. Water and wet hands will dilute the alcohol content of the disinfectant product, decreasing its effectiveness.
• Apply the size of a dime of sanitizer on your hands, enough so that when you rub your hands together it will cover all areas of your hands, including under your nails.
• Use a rubbing motion to evenly distribute the disinfectant product for about 20 seconds or until your hands feel dry, whichever is longest.

disinfecting hands 

How safe are alcohol-based hand sanitizers?

They are very safe. The alcohol content of the disinfectant product completely evaporates in about 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizers with 60% alcohol content. Hand sanitizers without this level of alcohol will not be as effective. You should use hand lotion after each use of the alcohol-based hand disinfectant to balance the drying effect of alcohol on your skin.

Is it safe to use alcohol-based sanitizers for the hands of children?

Yes, it is safe. It should not be swallowed; therefore, young children should be supervised when using it. After application of the disinfectant to hands, the alcohol content evaporates and children can safely touch their mouth or eyes.


The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. Global Hand-washing Day Planner’s Guide Compiled by UNICEF Malaysia Communications., viewed on August 6th, 2009.

Canadian Grey Bruce Health Unit. Hand washing. viewed on August 6th, 2009.

The Soap and Detergent Association. SDA Product fact sheet: hard surface hygiene. Viewed on August 5th, 2009.

Content used with permission of Florida State University