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How to Wash Your Hands Properly (or to Teach Hand Washing)

Updated on February 28, 2015

How to Wash Your Hands Properly (Or Teach Others Hand Washing)

*On the surface Hand Washing seems simple, but doing it improperly can recontaminate your hands and leave you vulnerable to illness and disease.

Hand washing, as deemed by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), is the single best way to avoid infection. Hand washing helps break up germs, dirt and other harmful particles on your hands with the combination of soap, water, friction and a paper towel.

On the surface hand washing is simple and elementary. However, many people do it improperly and actually walk away almost as contaminated (and sometimes more so) than before they washed. Plus, if hand washing is so simple then why don't all of us do it?

Follow the steps to proper hand washing to develop good hygiene and infection control habits. Once you have consistently incorporated infection control principles into your daily routines then you can experience increased health. Please note, we do not support over cleaning, hygiene OCD, germaphobia or other intense behaviors. We support a responsible approach to hygiene and recommend living in accordance with a few sound infection control principles.

If you have questions on how to best wash, teach others or promote hand hygiene then please email us ( or go to our site


Hand Washing Step 1 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 1 OUTFOX Prevention

Prepare Towel before Washing Hands

Step 1

If available, prepare a paper towel before you wash your hands. Most hand towel dispensers are automatic so wave your hand to have some of the paper extracted. Do not remove the paper from the dispenser at this time.

Let it hang out so you can grab it without touching anything once your hands are clean

Hand Washing Step 2 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 2 OUTFOX Prevention

Turn Water On and Wet Your Hands

Step 2

Turn the faucet on or wave your hand over the sensor if it is automatic. If temperature control is available, get the water to a very warm level. Caution, do not turn it too hot in order to avoid burning and to avoid eventual dry/cracking skin. A comfortable level is adequate.

Free Hand Washing Guide (PDF Download)

How to Wash Your Hands Properly
How to Wash Your Hands Properly

We have compiled these hand washing steps into a one-page guide that you can print and pass along. The sheet is part of our Hygiene Instructional Manual, but we are releasing these tools for free over the next 6 months! Simply click on the sheet showing how to wash your hands or paste the following link into your browser (the PDF download button will be at the bottom of the page on OUTFOX's site). The sheet is free-use so please feel free to print as many copies or pass the PDF to colleagues, etc.!

OUTFOX also provides many other infection control activities, games and other hygiene tools to teach your students and employees. We distribute Glo Germ which is a great tool to teach hand washing and cleaning.

Let us know if you have questions!

Hand Washing Step 3 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 3 OUTFOX Prevention

Apply Soap Liberally

Step 3

Apply the soap available in the restroom or use the soap you use for traveling and emergency situations. Lather the soap so that you can effectively cover the palms and backs of your hands. Carrying soap with you can come in handy. See your local store for sheet soap which is as thin as paper and intended for single use.

Use Glo Germ to teach hand washing - Fluorescent simulation germs are great to SHOW germs

Use Glo Germ with a UV Black Light and teach a great hand washing lesson! Simply have them apply the fluorescent gel, wash their hands and then check their hands with a UV backlight. You can point out where the germs are that they left!

Hand Washing Step 4 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 4 OUTFOX Prevention

Rub Hands Together and Create Friction

Step 4

Once the soap is applied, rub your hands together. Rub every part of your hands on your palms and the backs of the hands. Friction causes the germs and other harmful particles to leave the surface of your skin. Since soap generally (most soaps anyway) don't KILL germs, you need to work hard to get all the germs off your hands through friction.

The general rule is to rub your hands for 10-20 seconds. The spots that are often missed during hand washing include (but not limited to): The areas between fingers, the fingernail areas and wrist/thumb area. If you want to teach a hand washing lesson with Glo Germ (fluorescent powder or gel that can show where people miss while washing if used under a UV black light) see:

Hand Washing Step 5 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 5 OUTFOX Prevention

Rinse Hands Off

Step 5

After rubbing the soap all around and creating friction, hold you hands under the running water. Rub the soap off and hit all areas of your hands once more as the water washes the suds and germs off. Be careful not to touch the sides of the sink now that your hands are clean. Once the soap has been washed off, leave water running.

Hand Washing Step 6 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 6 OUTFOX Prevention

Dry Hands with the Prepared Paper Towel

Step 6

After rinsing your hands (without turning the faucet off), grab the prepared paper towel from the dispenser. Dry your hands and slightly rub the towel over them to get off any remaining germs.

Hand Washing Step 7 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 7 OUTFOX Prevention

Turn Faucet Off

Step 7

After drying, use the paper towel to turn the faucet off. Using a paper towel allows your hands to not be recontaminated.

If you think about the procession of hand washing, people touch and turn the faucet on when their hands ARE DIRTY. If you are to touch the faucet once again after washing, you would be getting the same germs on your hands.

Hand Washing Step 8 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 8 OUTFOX Prevention

Leaving the Restroom

Step 8

With the paper towel still in hand from turning off the faucet, turn to leave the restroom. If needed or possible, use the paper towel to open the door of the restroom. This ensures that you are not getting germs from those that used the restroom but did not washing their hands properly (or at all for the matter). Touching a bathroom door can contaminate your hands with the germs of others' feces... who wants that!

Hand Washing Step 9 OUTFOX Prevention
Hand Washing Step 9 OUTFOX Prevention

Dispose of the Paper Towel and Leave Clean!

Step 9

Throw the paper towel away as soon as possible so that the germs are not spread to you. This may seem like an intense process for hand washing, but it is quite simple when you get in the habit. All parts of the process are intuitive but many times we are in a rush. If you dedicate yourself to following the steps over a few weeks then it will be less cumbersome. Good luck and we hope you can OUTFOX infection to avoid illness and disease!

Hand Washing Diagram for Increased Infection Control
Hand Washing Diagram for Increased Infection Control

From CDC: Handwashing... Clean Hands Save Lives

Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in many parts of the world, use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.

What is the right way to wash your hands?

---Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.

---Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

---Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.

---Rinse your hands well under running water.

---Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

When should you wash your hands?

---Before, during, and after preparing food

---Before eating food

---Before and after caring for someone who is sick

---Before and after treating a cut or wound

---After using the toilet

---After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

---After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

---After touching an animal or animal waste

---After handling pet food or pet treats

---After touching garbage

Hand Washing Debate... Vote: Do you feel secure with hand sanitizer?

Hand washing and hand sanitizer OUTFOX Prevention
Hand washing and hand sanitizer OUTFOX Prevention

There has always been a running debate between hand washing and hand sanitizers... Does soap and water always trump the alcohol and non alcohol sanitizer rubs on the market? Recently as the CDC and other entities have recognized hand sanitizers more, we've seen an increased number of people that are washing less and sanitizing more.

Germs are everywhere which facilitates people carrying sanitizing gels and sanitizing sprays around with them, but should you be getting to a sink with hot water and soap more often then you currently do? You tell us. We just know that living according to effective infection control principles and maintaining high hygiene standards is important!

Vote: Do you feel secure with hand sanitizer?

See results

Hand washing frequency poll

How often on average do you wash your hands every day?

See results

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