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Prevent Illness by Washing Your Hands

Prevent Illness by Washing Your Hands

Prevent Illness. Wash Hands.

One of the best ways to prevent illness, especially during the holiday season when we’re often celebrating with friends and family, is by washing your hands.  In just five simple steps, you can reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy.

  1. WET – wet your hands with warm running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap.
  2. LATHER – lather your hands by rubbing them together. Be sure to get the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  3. SCRUB – scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  4. RINSE – rinse well until all the soap and suds are gone.
  5. DRY – dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel. Use a towel to turn off the faucet.


  • Handwashing is a vital tool in preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses that can cause infections and foodborne illness.
  • Infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as norovirus.
  • Inadequate hand hygiene also contributes to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E. coli infection.
  • Antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soaps may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the products’ antimicrobial agents — making it even harder to kill these germs in the future.

Although it’s impossible to keep your bare hands germ-free, there are times when it’s critical to wash your hands to limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

Always wash your hands:

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after treating wounds or cuts
  • Before and after touching a sick or injured person
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing a diaper — wash the diaper-wearer’s hands, too
  • After touching animals or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or treats
  • After blowing your nose
  • After coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • After handling garbage

Teach and show children how and when to wash their hands.
Children should wash their hands after:

  • Arriving home from day care, a friend’s house or school
  • Using the toilet or having their diapers changed
  • Touching a child who may be sick
  • Eating or drinking
  • Touching an animal or pet.

Quick Links

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Clean Hands Save Lives!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings
Clean Hands Coalition
Mayo Clinic – Handwashing