Hand Hygiene (Hand Washing)

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: November 17, 2023

Hand hygiene is cleaning your hands to reduce the number of germs on them. Hand hygiene is one of the most important things you can do to prevent infections. Hand hygiene should be done often, including:

  • Before and after preparing a meal.
  • After touching raw meat and fish.
  • Before and after caring for a sick person or cleaning a cut or wound.
  • After using the bathroom.
  • After touching bodily fluids such as urine, stool, mucous, or blood.
  • After touching animal waste.
  • After touching garbage or something visibly dirty.

There are two ways of doing hand hygiene. You can:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

When you see dirt on your hands, hand hygiene should be done with soap and water. Follow the directions below for proper hand hygiene:

Soap and Water

  • Turn on the water and wet your hands.
  • Apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to lather the soap, making sure you 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 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

  • Place about a quarter-size of amount of gel/foam on the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together, being sure to cover your palms, backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Keep rubbing your hands until they are dry.

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2022. When and how to wash your hands. Taken from https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html

Toney-Butler TJ, Gasner A, Carver N. Hand Hygiene. [Updated 2023 Jul 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470254/

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