How's Your Handwashing Technique? 8 Steps of Handwashing

Two people washing their hands with soap


Stay healthy by washing your hands properly for infection prevention.

Are you sure that your handwashing technique kills germs?? If your answer isn’t a definitive yes, learn 8 steps of handwashing that will get your hands spotlessly clean every time.

Cell phones, door handles, shopping carts, money … the surfaces we touch are usually germ-ridden, even when they look clean. People touch these surfaces and then may chew their fingernails, rub their eyes or scratch their nose — all places where mucus membranes introduce viruses to the rest of the body. In fact, according to the American Journal of Infection Control, the average person touches his or her face more than 20 times per hour.

Touching your own face is an impossible habit to break, but you can keep some of the germs away with good hand hygiene compliance. These 8 handwashing techniques will help kill germs before they sicken you.

What is the proper handwashing technique?

It only takes about 20 seconds to kill most germs on your hands. Just use this handwashing technique recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO):

  1. Wet the surfaces of your hands with warm running water, apply a generous amount of soap and rub your palms together.

  2. Interlace your fingers to clean between them.

  3. Rub the palm of one hand against the back of the other, then reverse, to get the backs of both hands and fingers clean.

  4. Grip one thumb at a time and scrub around it.

  5. Cup your fingers into the palm of the opposite hands to wash the backs of your fingers.

  6. Don’t forget your fingernails! Scrub the tips of your fingers in a circular motion on the palm of the opposite hand.

  7. Finish by scrubbing your wrists one at a time.

  8. Rinse your hands thoroughly with warm – not hot – water and turn off the tap with your wrist, elbow or clean towel. Towel or air-dry hands thoroughly.

Bonus Tip: To ensure you’re washing long enough, count to at least 20 before rinsing off. Or, sing a short song to yourself, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “Happy Birthday,” which both last about 20 seconds.

When should I wash my hands?

Our hands pick up viruses and germs from nearly everything they touch throughout the day. Frequent handwashing and proper handwashing technique will help you limit exposure and transfer of microbes that can spread diseases like a cold, flu and coronavirus. In addition to washing your hands when they are visibly dirty, there are a number of other instances when hand washing is vital.

Wash your hands before and after:
  • Touching potentially contaminated surfaces (like doorknobs, doors, cash, phones or surfaces in public places)

  • Touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth and nose

  • Preparing meals for people or pets

  • Eating or drinking

  • Bandaging a wound

  • Using the restroom

  • Caring for someone who’s already sick

  • Putting in or taking out contact lenses

  • Blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing

  • Handling household waste

You can give yourself an extra measure of protection by also washing your hands if it has been more than an hour or so since the last scrub-up. In that time, you may have touched your face dozens of times without even realizing you did it. When soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer is an acceptable Plan B.

A word about alcohol-based hand sanitizer…

Sanitizers are no substitute for good handwashing but will help in a pinch. Try to find a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol; this strength is necessary to kill germs that can’t be washed away.

To properly cleanse hands with hand sanitizer, squeeze a liberal amount into your hand and rub the gel over the front and back of hands and wrists until the liquid is fully evaporated.

If I use proper handwashing, can I still get sick?

Sometimes, no matter how diligent you are about hand hygiene, viruses can still catch up with you. If they do, BJC primary care providers are here to help. But don’t wait for illness to strike: Work with your primary care provider for your overall health to prevent getting sick in the first place. Having a primary care provider is your first step to preventive health and wellness.

A BJC primary care provider is your partner in health. Your primary care team is here to handle routine health needs and treat illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions. With benefits like virtual care and direct messaging, a primary care provider can help you reach your wellness goals. Learn more.

Don’t wait—find a primary care doctor near you with availability!

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