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Standard Precautions: Handwashing

Frequent and thorough handwashing is the best way to prevent infection. The sooner you wash your hands after exposure, the less likely you are to catch or spread infection.

When to Wash Your Hands

Closeup of hands in sink with running water. Hands are covered with soap suds.
Washing your hands is the best way to stop the spread of infection.

Wash your hands regularly throughout the day, especially:

  • When first arriving at work and before leaving.

  • Before and after treating a patient.

  • After touching blood or any other body fluid or substance, broken skin, or mucous membranes.

  • After touching an object or surface that is or may be contaminated.

  • Before and after eating, drinking, smoking, and after using the restroom.

How to Wash Your Hands

First, carefully remove gloves and other PPE. Follow your facility’s guidelines for dealing with jewelry. Then follow these steps:

  • Use warm water and plenty of soap. Work up a good lather by rubbing your hands together.

  • Clean your whole hand, under your nails, between your fingers, and up your wrists. Wash for at least 20  seconds (Centers for Disease Control guidelines).

  • Rinse your hands well. Let the water run off your fingertips, not up your wrists.

  • Dry your hands well with clean paper towels. Or use an air dryer machine. If you can, use paper towels to turn off the faucet and open the door so you don’t recontaminate your hands.

  • If no sink is available, use the alcohol-based handwashing cleanser approved by your facility. These products are fact-acting and significantly reduce the number of germs on the skin. Wash with soap and water as soon as you can.

Remember: When you wash your hands, the longer you wash, the more germs you’ll remove. Time yourself when you next wash your hands. It may take longer than you think to get rid of germs.

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.