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Why Handwashing Reduces Germs on Your Hands

Washing your hands regularly is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent the spread of germs.

Germs on the hands

In our daily routine our hands are constantly picking up germs, which are tiny living organisms also known as microbes. Germs can get on our hands after we use the toilet, handle raw meat, or touch anything that has germs on it.

Our hands can carry millions of germs. Some of these germs can survive on our hands for a few minutes to a few hours, and on hard surfaces for a couple of hours to several months. And just ten seconds of contact can be enough to transfer these germs from our unwashed hands to other people or objects.

Why is it important to wash your hands?

When we don’t wash our hands, the germs on our hands can be spread to objects that we touch and to other people. By washing our hands regularly with soap and water, we remove germs from our hands. Washing hands regularly is the single most important hygiene step in fighting the spread of germs, and good hand washing practices help people and their communities stay healthier.

When to wash your hands

It’s easy to remember to wash your hands when they look dirty, but a good rule of thumb is to wash your hands before touching anything that needs to stay clean and after touching anything that could leave germs on your hands.

You should wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food, especially between handling raw food and cooked or ready-to eat food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after caring for sick people at home or visiting people in hospital
  • Before and after treating a cut, wound, or rash
  • After using the toilet, changing nappies, or helping a child use the toilet
  • After cleaning up blood, vomit, or other body fluids
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, or handling animal feed or waste
  • After handling rubbish or chemicals, or working in the garden
  • After smoking
  • After touching frequently used surfaces in public places
  • Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth

Why do we wash our hands with soap?

Soap is more effective than water alone to remove dirt and germs from your skin. Rubbing your hands together to lather the soap causes friction that helps to lift the dirt and germs from your skin. Scrubbing all over your hands, including under the nails, for at least 20 seconds is recommended because it removes more germs than when you only wash for shorter lengths of time.

While washing your hands with soap and water is recommended whenever possible, if you are out and about, then you can use a hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol to help stop the spread of germs.

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