Hand Hygiene (Hand Washing)

Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski, BSN, RN
Last Modified: December 8, 2017

Practicing proper hand hygiene is one of the most important practices to prevent infections. Hand hygiene should be practiced frequently including: after touching raw meat and fish, before and after preparing a meal, before and after caring for a sick person or cleaning a cut or wound, after using the bathroom, after coming in contact with bodily fluids such as urine, stool, mucous or blood, after touching animal waste and after touching garbage.

There are two ways of performing hand hygiene. The first is by washing your hands with soap and water and the other is the use of an alcohol based hand sanitizer. When hands are visibly soiled hand hygiene should be performed with soap and water. Below are the directions to perform the two types of hand hygiene.

Soap and Water

  • Turn on water and wet your hands.
  • Apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to lather the soap ensuring that your cover the palms, back of your hands, in between your fingers and under your nails.
  • After scrubbing your entire hands for 20 seconds (you can either count to twenty or sing "happy birthday" twice) rinse your hands with clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. You can also let them air dry.
  • Turn off the running water using the towel or paper towel used to dry your hands.

Alcohol Based Gel/Foam Sanitizer

  • Apply appropriate amount of gel/foam to the palm of one hand. Most gels/foams automatically dispense the appropriate amount of product but you may want to check the directions on the product label to ensure you use the correct amount.
  • Rub your hands together ensuring to cover your palms, back of your hands, in between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Continue to rub your hands until dry.

Hand hygiene is a very important practice while you are receiving treatment for cancer – for both you and your visitors. During treatment your immune system may be compromised, making you more susceptible to infections. If you have any questions about hand hygiene please ask your health care provider.

Adapted from "Wash Your Hands"

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