Child Health, Safety, and Well-being

 Tips: Hand Washing

Last Updated: February 01, 2023

Your Health 101: Wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds before you eat, after you use the bathroom, before touching your eyes or mouth, and when returning home from public places. Wash away germs throughout the day! ​

Handwashing is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. Studies have shown that handwashing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea related sickness and 1 in 5 respiratory illnesses, such as a cold or the flu. 

Key Times to Wash Hands

​Building handwashing skills and habits for children can take some time, so it is important to provide regular reminders on how and when to wash hands, such as:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after caring for a sick family member or friend
  • After using the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal food, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

How to Wash Hands Properly

Here are five steps to teach your child how to properly wash their hands:   

1) WET hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

2) LATHER hands by rubbing them together with soap. Lather the back of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails.

3) SCRUB hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.

4) RINSE hands well under clean, running water.

5) DRY hands using a clean towel or air dryer.


Handwashing Fun

More tips on how to make handwashing a fun family activity:

Sing a Song: The CDC recommends scrubbing hands with soap for 20 seconds. To achieve 20 seconds of hand scrubbing, include a few well-known songs including "Happy Birthday", "ABC", chorus for "Stayin' Alive by The Bee Gees", "Twinkle Twinkle", or even create a song.

Create a Handwashing Chart: Grab a large poster board and create a grid for each day of the week. Ask your child or children "We should wash our hands before what activities?" and "We should wash our hands after what activities?" Some children may need prompts in order to come up with ideas, but once they start providing answers to the questions; write their answers on the grid. Hang the poster in a common area, so that it acts as a reminder for everyone in the family on when to wash their hands. Have your child or children place a sticker or color in the grid box when they have washed their hands (e.g., after using the bathroom, before eating or cooking). At the end of the week, provide a fun reward for completing proper handwashing.


Hand Sanitizer

Wash hands with soap and water whenever possible to reduce the amount of germs on hands; but if soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. However, hand sanitizer does not get rid of all types of germs, may not be effective when hands are visibly greasy or dirty, and might not remove harmful chemicals from hands.

When using hand sanitizer, please keep it out of the reach of young children and supervise their use. Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer:

  • Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand (please read the sanitizer label to learn the correct amount of gel to use).
  • Rub hands together and over all surfaces on your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.

 Handwashing ​Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it necessary for my child to wash their hands for 20 seconds? Studies have shown that scrubbing for 20 seconds is needed to remove harmful germs and chemicals from hands. Scrubbing hands for a shorter time may not remove as many germs. 
  • Is antibacterial soap better than plain soap? Use plain soap (without antibacterial ingredients) in either bar or liquid form to wash your child’s hands. Both bar and liquid plain soap work well to remove germs. Plain soap does not contribute to antibiotic resistance. Studies have not found any added health benefits from using antibacterial soap other than in the healthcare setting. 
  • Is it better to use warm or cold water to wash my child’s hands? Warm and cold water remove the same number of germs when washing hands. Water helps create a soap lather that removes germs from the skin.  Remember to use clean, running water when washing hands. 
  • Can I reuse a towel to dry my hands at home? Using a clean towel is recommended when towel drying hands. Reusable towels are a practical option at home, but they should be changed when visibly dirty and before they develop mildew. 
  • Do wipes remove germs? Hand sanitizing wipes with at least 60% alcohol can kill germs on hands. Baby wipes are not designed to remove germs from hands and are not recommended to use to clean hands. Disinfecting wipes are designed to kill germs on surfaces only; do not use disinfecting wipes to clean skin.