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Proper and Effective Handwashing

The Centers for Disease Controls suggests very specific guidelines for proper handwashing and care.

From Show Me the Science - Why Wash Your Hands?


Handwashing with soap removes germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:

  • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.
  • Removing germs through handwashing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.
  • Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy.


Handwashing education in the community:

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40% 236
  • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%  4
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21% 35
  • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57% 7


Auburn University Risk Management and Safety has developed 5 quick steps to help develop proper handwashing techniques. As well as an informative flyer to display in break, common, and bathrooms.


Wet hands with clean, running water. Turn off the water and apply soap to skin. Use colder water when possible. The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal. Warm water can cause skin irritation and uses more energy to produce

Rub hands together with soap to create lather. Make sure to lather entire hand and wrists. The later should cover hands. Pay close attention to the backs of hands, the wrist, under finger nails, and in between fingers.

Scrub your hands for at least 20-30 seconds. You should scrub the entire hand thoroughly and completely. Need a timer for 20-30 Seconds? Try humming or singing the Auburn fight song while you scrub your hands.

Rinse excess soap and residue off your hands. Use clean, running water to rinse residue off of hands.  Turning off the faucet while scrubbing and lathering helps to save and conserve water. There is little data to prove a significant transfer of germs from hands to faucets.

Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry. Avoid using your clothing to dry hands if possible. Wet hands can cause germs to spread more easily. That’s why it’s important to dry your hands completely to complete hand washing.


Hand Sanitizers

Washing hands with soap and water is preferred. However, if soap and water is not available, hand sanitizers may be used in the interim. Hand sanitizers must have 60% alcohol in order to be effective.

The CDC offers additional guidance for hand sanitizers on Show Me the Science – When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings

Why? Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidiumnorovirus, and Clostridium difficile1-5. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can inactivate many types of microbes very effectively when used correctly 1-15, people may not use a large enough volume of the sanitizers or may wipe it off before it has dried 14.

Why? Many studies show that hand sanitizers work well in clinical settings like hospitals, where hands come into contact with germs but generally are not heavily soiled or greasy 16. Some data also show that hand sanitizers may work well against certain types of germs on slightly soiled hands 17,18. However, hands may become very greasy or soiled in community settings, such as after people handle food, play sports, work in the garden, or go camping or fishing. When hands are heavily soiled or greasy, hand sanitizers may not work well 3,7,16. Handwashing with soap and water is recommended in such circumstances.

Why? Although few studies have been conducted, hand sanitizers probably cannot remove or inactivate many types of harmful chemicals. In one study, people who reported using hand sanitizer to clean hands had increased levels of pesticides in their bodies 19. If hands have touched harmful chemicals, wash carefully with soap and water (or as directed by a poison control center).

Why? Many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers 16,20. Hand sanitizers without 60-95% alcohol 1) may not work equally well for many types of germs; and 2) merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright.

Why? The steps for hand sanitizer use are based on a simplified procedure recommended by CDC 21. Instructing people to cover all surfaces of both hands with hand sanitizer has been found to provide similar disinfection effectiveness as providing detailed steps for rubbing-in hand sanitizer 22.

Why? Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)-based hand sanitizers are safe when used as directed, 23 but they can cause alcohol poisoning if a person swallows more than a couple of mouthfuls 24.

From 2011 – 2015, U.S. poison control centers received nearly 85,000 calls about hand sanitizer exposures among children  25. Children may be particularly likely to swallow hand sanitizers that are scented, brightly colored, or attractively packaged. Hand sanitizers should be stored out of the reach of young children and should be used with adult supervision. Child-resistant caps could also help reduce hand sanitizer-related poisonings among young children 24. Older children and adults might purposefully swallow hand sanitizers to become drunk 26.



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RMS Hand Washing FlyerKeep Calm and Wash Your Hands


Hand Washing Middle School Wash Your Hands Steps


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