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How to Wash Hands? Handwashing Steps with Posters

We bet you’ve been told to wash your hands your whole life, from childhood to adulthood, but how effective is your handwashing technique? What if you’re missing a step of proper handwashing or perhaps not using the right soap? Chances are you’ve spread germs or likely to get infected.

Hands are responsible for the spread of most of the common infectious diseases, and handwashing remains one of the easiest and cheapest ways to prevent the spread of germs. However, 2 out of 5 people worldwide don’t have handwashing facilities, and of those that do, 40 per cent of them don’t use soap for handwashing.


Keeping our hands clean is the primary key to prevent illness. But why don’t more people do it and do it right? The answer could be as easy as that most people don’t know how to.

So, let’s dive deeper into how to wash your hands properly to ensure they’re free of germs that can cause serious infections.

Table of Contents

Hand hygiene

Hand Hygiene is a general term that refers to handwashing, either an antiseptic handwash, antiseptic hand rub or a simple handwash with plain soap and water.

Good hand hygiene is an essential part of protecting yourself and others from infection transmission.

When your hands are visibly soiled, you must wash your hands with soap and water, and it’s the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water aren’t easily available, you should use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol.

Clean hands are a simple and effective approach to minimise the spread of germs from one person to another and through the community-from home and work to childcare facilities and hospitals.

Importance of hand hygiene

The human skin is colonised by microorganisms that differ significantly from one person to another and are often persistent in any particular person. It’s defined in two categories of flora (a term used to describe the microorganisms that exist on or within the human body) on the hands:

1. Transient flora – most commonly associated with health-related infections and are prone to removal by handwashing. It’s often acquired through close contact with patients or polluted surfaces and occupies surface layers of the skin temporarily.

2. Resident flora – occupies a particular body site and are more resistant to removal. They are also known as colonising flora and often attached to the deeper layers of the skin.

When pathogenic, these microorganisms can pose potential threats to patients as well as healthcare facilities by:

  • Transference of microorganisms to patients.
  • Infecting healthcare workers caused by pathogens acquired from the patients.

So, how do these pathogens transfer from one person to another? They transmit in the following sequence of events:

  1. The pathogens on the patient’s skin or shed on inanimate objects in the vicinity of the patient are transferred to the caregiver’s hands.
  2. Then these organisms survive for at least a few minutes on the hands of personnel.
  3. Inadequate handwashing failing to kill the germs on the hands.
  4. Finally, the infected hands of the caregiver coming in contact with other patients and inanimate objects lead to more spreading of germs.

Handwashing: the first line of defence against germs

Handwashing habit can work as the first line of defence against most of the common infectious diseases. Diseases like diarrhoea, the common cold, the flu, norovirus, hepatitis A, pneumonia, coronavirus and other respiratory diseases can easily transmit from one person to another through hands. According to an estimate by UNICEF:

  • 1.7 million children die each year because of diarrhoea and pneumonia resulting from improper handwashing.
  • 4 in 5 people globally don’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet.
  • By proper handwashing with soap and water, children can reduce the risk of getting diarrhoea by more than 40 per cent.

Therefore, it’s crucial to learn the proper ways of handwashing and keep your hands clean at all times, especially your children’s hands. Because they can unknowingly become infected by rubbing their eyes, nose, or mouth, and once they’re sick, it’s normally only a matter of time before the whole family has the same disease.

Proper handwashing will not only stop the spreading of germs but also help the community stay healthy.

You can learn more about hand hygiene along with other basic hygiene habits that’ll lead you to a better healthy life.

Effects of handwashing

Proper handwashing removes germs from your hands and prevents infections. Using non-antibacterial soap for handwashing is much more effective in removing bacteria from hands than handwashing with water only.

However, frequent handwashing can have adverse effects on your skin, e.g., damage due to the drying of the skin. A study on 2000 common healthcare workers shows that excessive handwashing can lead to an itchy, flaky skin condition known as ‘hand eczema’ or ‘hand dermatitis’.

Therefore, you must wash your hands only when it’s recommended.

When should you wash your hands?

Handwashing is especially important in conditions where you’re more likely to get and spread germs. This includes:

Washing your hands is particularly important when you’re in situations where you’re more likely to acquire or transmit germs. This includes:

  1. When you prepare your food.
  2. Before and after consuming foods.
  3. Before and after entering a hospital or any other healthcare settings.
  4. If you clean or treat a cut, burn or wound.
  5. While taking medication such as pills or eye drops.
  6.  After:
    • Using public transportation.
    • Coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
    • Touching visibly dirty places.
    • Using the toilet.
    • Changing nappies.
    • Handling rubbish.
    • Touching animals, animal feeds or waste.
    • Shaking hands with others.
    • Engaging in sexual or intimate activity.

Washing your hands properly not only removes the dirt but also stops the viruses and bacteria from spreading to other people and objects. It can reduce the risks of illness such as food poisoning, flu or diarrhoea.

How long should you wash your hands?

It’s recommended to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after coming from the hospital, going to the toilet or when your hands are visually dirty, before eating and after blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing.

Moments of hand hygiene

To improve the hand hygiene strategy, the WHO developed five moments for hand hygiene. This newly developed guideline is particularly important in healthcare because healthcare workers must perform hand hygiene.

Many people tend to rush through handwashing procedures or don’t know the proper ways of adequate handwashing. As a result, the germs hardly leave off their hands. Therefore, you must learn how to wash your hands to stay healthy.

According to the guideline, the healthcare workers must wash their hands

  • Before touching a patient,
  • before cleaning procedures,
  • after exposure to the body fluids,
  • after touching a patient, and
  • after touching the patient’s surroundings.

Handwashing technique

Many people tend to rush through handwashing procedures or don’t know the proper ways of adequate handwashing. As a result, the germs hardly leave off their hands. Therefore, you must learn how to wash your hands to stay healthy.

You should follow these steps every time.

  1. Firstly, wet your hands. Begin with turning on the water and getting your hands wet. Many people reach for the soap as the first move, but wetting your hands first provides a better lather for washing.
  2. Apply plain, antibacterial, or liquid soap to your wet hands.
  3. Rub your palms with your fingers to lather up the soap.
  4. Make sure to spread the foam up to your wrists, between your fingers, and on your nails and fingertips.
  5. Rub your hands together properly for at least 20 seconds.
  6. Wash your hands well under clean running water.
  7. Dry your hands rigorously with a clean and dry cloth hand towel.
How To HandWash Poster

Which soap should you use?

There is hardly any evidence that antibacterial soaps are more effective to prevent infection than plain soaps. However, under most circumstances in the home or in public places, both plain soap and antibacterial soap are recommended to use.

Which soap should you use

Plain soap

  • Recommended using in public, non-healthcare settings and in the home.
  • Easy to find in stores
  • Usually less expensive than antibacterial soap.

Antibacterial soap

  • Contains antibacterial ingredients such as triclosan, alcohol, benzalkonium chloride, etc. 
  • Antibacterial soap, along with warm water and proper hand-washing techniques, is effective at killing off bacteria and other germs.
  • Recommended using in business or homes only if directed by a healthcare provider.
  • Must be left on hands for about two minutes to have any effect on bacteria.

Liquid soap

  • Easy to use.
  • Doesn’t spread germs from one person to another.
  • Includes moisturising agents that prevent drying out of the skin.
  • More convenient to use if you keep it on your counters or sinks.

It’s recommended not to use bar soap in public areas because germs can accumulate on bar soap and easily spread from one person to another.

What should you do when soap and water aren’t available?

Hand-washing with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. However, if soap and water aren’t available, you should use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Hand sanitiser

Although washing your hands with plain soap and clean, running water is the preferred method for handwashing, you can use an alternative like a hand sanitiser, but you must follow all the steps of proper handwashing. 

Hand sanitisers can generally kill the vast majority of germs on the hands in many  settings. However,

  • Sanitisers do not get rid of all types of germs.
  • Hand sanitisers aren’t effective when hands are visibly dirty.
  • Hand sanitisers can’t remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals.

How to use a hand sanitiser?

  • Apply the sanitiser in a cupped hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
  • Rub your hand palms together (try rotational rubbing and one palm over another).
  • Rub your palms with fingers interlaced.
  • And rub until your hands are dry.

However, hand sanitisers are potentially flammable. Therefore, you must store them away from high temperature and flames. Moreover, you should keep hand sanitisers out of young children’s reach because alcohol-based hand sanitisers can cause alcohol poisoning if a couple of mouthfuls are swallowed. So, you must supervise their use.

Sanitising wipes

Sanitising wipes are a good alternative to handwashing, especially during travelling in the absence of soap and water. 

Handwashing using hand sanitising wipes is an alternative during travelling in the absence of soap and water. 

Ash or mud

Many people in the developing world can barely afford soap. Therefore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended ash or sand as a substitute for soap when soap isn’t available. However, it’s unclear whether the use of ash to wash hands is effective at reducing the spread of germs compared to washing with mud, not washing or washing with water only.

However, ash is also a disinfectant, just like soap because, in contact with water, it can form an alkaline solution.

Low-cost alternatives

There are some low-cost alternatives to soap and the instalments of handwashing materials. These are given below.

Soapy water

You can easily make a low-cost alternative to a bar soap using plastic soda bottles and filling it with a water solution of locally available detergent.


A tippy-tap style hand sink can be made in several ways. You can use a container (i.e. a large can or bottle) and drill a hole near the top. Then attach a string and pedal at the top of the container so that it can be used to tilt the water container to flow the water. This setup is more hygienic as the users won’t get in contact with the water outlet.


In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and community leaders around the world have called for strong and collective efforts to strengthen public hygiene practices such as handwashing.

Handwashing is a simple, low cost and evidence-based practice that can help protect your health and the health of others.

Good hand hygiene isn’t a measure to be taken only during pandemics and other disease outbreaks. It’s a good habit that people of all age should develop with consistent practice. And thus, it’ll impact greatly on the individual, community and global health.

Personal Hygiene Course
The personal hygiene course is designed to provide learners with the essential information to ensure a high standard of self-care for the workplace and beyond.
Personal Hygiene Course
The personal hygiene course is designed to provide learners with the essential information to ensure a high standard of self-care for the workplace and beyond.
April 28, 2021

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