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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:

Wash your hands after you:

5 steps for hand-washing

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following steps for hand-washing:

Figure 1

Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Apply soap.

Figure 2

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.

Figure 3

Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Scrub the backs of hands, between fingers, palms, and under nails.

Figure 4

Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

Figure 5

Protect your hand with a paper towel when you turn off the faucet. Dry your hands using a clean towel, or air-dry them.

What if soap and water are not available?

If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer or alcohol-based hand wipe that contains at least 60% ethyl alcohol or isopropanol. Carry one or both with you when you travel, and keep them in your car or purse. These products can help reduce the number of germs on your hands. But they don't get rid of all types of germs.

If you use sanitizer, rub your hands and fingers until they are dry. You don't need to use water. The alcohol quickly kills many types of germs on your hands.

Credits for Hand-Washing

Current as of: June 12, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff (
Clinical Review Board (
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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