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What Is The Correct Hand Washing Technique?

Patrick Boshell
November 08, 2016



You've been told to wash your hands your whole life, from childhood to adulthood, but lately it seems like hand hygiene is spreading as fast as the infections it's trying to prevent - hand washing has become the new hype. 


Why Is Hand Washing Important?


Hands are responsible for the spread of 80% of common infectious diseases and hand washing remains one of the easiest and cheapest ways to prevent the spread of bacteria. However, 1 in 5 people don't wash their hands and of those that do only 30% use soap.


So if keeping our hands clean is key in preventing illness, why don't more people do it, and do it right?


The answer may be as simple as that most people don't know how.


Hand Washing Technique


Happy Birthday, Twinkle Twinkle, 20 seconds, 15 seconds...with the many different recommended hand washing techniques and guidelines that are out there, it's difficult to know exactly which hand washing method is the most effective.


A recent study by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America found that the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 6-step hand washing technique was more effective at removing bacteria than the simple CDC wash your hands for 20 seconds method.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 15-20 seconds of hand washing, using the following steps:



  1. Wet hands with water
  2. Apply single shot of soap
  3. Rub hands palm to palm
  4. Rub back of each hand with the palm of other the hand with fingers interlaced
  5. Rub palm to palm with fingers interlaced
  6. Rub with backs of fingers to opposing palms with fingers interlocked
  7. Rub each thumb clasped in opposite hand using rotational movement
  8. Rub tips of fingers in opposite palm in circular motion
  9. Rub each wrist with opposite hand
  10. Rinse hands with water
  11. Dry thoroughly


When water is not available, use a alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill common bacteria.



Developing a good hand washing technique is imperative to ensure hands are thoroughly clean. Particular attention should be paid to the backs of the hands and fingertips as these are frequently missed. The image below shows the most frequently missed parts of the hands when the correct hand washing technique is not adopted.




The skin should always be properly dried to avoid risk of chapping particularly during cold weather. Clean towels should be available at all times – dirty towels mean exposing the skin to more dirt and the risk of infection. Ideally, disposable paper towels should be used, as the use of ‘communal’ towels can lead to contamination.


Proper hand washing may look intimidating, but once you learn it hand washing is simple and essential.


When to Hand Wash


Knowing how to wash you hands properly is an important step in preventing the spread of infections in the workplace, home or schools. Also important is knowing when to wash your hands. Here are the key times when hand washing should be conducted: 


  • At the end of each work/school period
  • Before each break
  • Before eating or preparing food
  • After going to the restroom
  • Whenever hands are dirty or contaminated


Healthcare workers must follow a stricter hand washing process, using the "The 5 Moments of Hand Hygiene" as recommended by WHO: 


  • Before touching a patient,
  • Before clean/aseptic procedures,
  • After body fluid exposure/risk,
  • After touching a patient, and
  • After touching patient surroundings


Educating staff and using posters or other visuals are a useful reminder for employees, students or healthcare workers when trying to implement an effective hand hygiene program.


Remember, hand washing is vital to our health and those around us, if we can all make proper hand washing a habit, we will all be better off.


Download free hand hygiene posters for your workplace. 


Download Hand Washing Posters

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