Handwashing 101: How and When to Do It

Read one to discover the correct order of steps for handwashing.

Science and medicine have both progressed rapidly in the last 100 years. During this time, experts have learned that handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid contagious illnesses. 

In several reputable studies, handwashing has been shown to reduce rates of infectious disease among all populations. Learn the correct order of steps for handwashing so you can effectively protect yourself and others year-round. 

Knowing When to Soap Up: When Should You Wash Your Hands?

Many people don’t wash their hands as often as they should to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. This guide will clear things up if you’re unsure about when to wash your hands.

Toileting and Diaper Changes

Any toileting or diaper-related activities warrant washing your hands. Many types of bacteria spread through fecal matter, so it’s crucial to wash your hands before and after dealing with this material. 

Always wash your hands before:

  • Cleaning up urine or feces
  • Cleaning up diarrhea or vomit
  • Assisting a child or adult with toileting
  • Wiping a child or adult in private areas

If you have unclean hands, these sensitive activities can expose the other person to harmful bacteria. 

Always wash your hands after:

  • Changing a child’s diaper
  • Using the toilet 
  • Touching animal waste
  • Cleaning areas with animal waste (litter boxes, etc.)

Washing your hands after these activities will help you avoid ingesting the bacteria that is transmitted through them.

Preparing and Serving Food

Foodborne illness usually comes from unsanitary practices related to food handling and preparation. It’s important to know the correct order of steps for handwashing related to your kitchen adventures and other food-related activities.  

For instance, always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food
  • Handling uncooked food
  • Eating food
  • Serving someone else food
  • Hand-feeding a baby or young child
  • Serving someone else a beverage

Following these steps will prevent you from accidentally passing nasty germs to other people. Those who are eating food you’ve prepared are especially vulnerable if you didn’t wash your hands beforehand. 

In addition, always wash your hands after:

  • Handling raw meat
  • Cooking meals
  • Doing dishes 
  • Eating food
  • Hand-feeding a baby or young child
  • Touching garbage and/or food waste
  • Handling unpasteurized dairy

These processes can spread bacteria like wildfire. Be on the lookout and wash your hands accordingly.

The Correct Order of Steps for Handwashing

Now that you know when handwashing is appropriate, let’s dive into the correct order of steps for handwashing. It’s important to follow these steps carefully to remove as many germs from your hands as possible. Otherwise, the process may not be as effective at keeping you and others safe and healthy. 

Handwashing has five main steps. Follow these in order and practice them with young children to build healthy habits early.

Step 1: Wet Your Hands

Get your hands wet with running water from a tap or other clean water sources. Turn off the running water source after your hands are thoroughly soaked. This will help the soap lather properly.

Step 2: Lather the Soap

Rubbing your hands together will lather the soap, creating bubbles and foam. This is how you know the soap is getting to work and actually cleaning your skin. Make sure you lather your entire hand, including between your fingers and at least one inch above your wrist.

Step 3: Scrub Your Hands

Now that you have a nice lather going, use the soap to scrub your hands. This shouldn’t hurt or cause scratches, but you should be manually cleansing the dirt and germs off your skin. Scrub your entire hand, including underneath your fingernails. 

Spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing. For children, it’s wise to sing “Happy Birthday” or another 10-second song twice in a row. This will help them get the job done and add some fun to the mix. 

Step 4: Rinse Your Hands

Rinse all of the soap residue off of your hands. Make sure there are no bubbles or foam left over before you turn off the tap. 

Step 5: Dry Your Hands

Always use a clean towel or stream of warm air to dry your hands off after washing them. This is the final step.

Stay Healthy with Regular Handwashing

stay healthy and practice the correct order of steps for handwashing

It might seem excessive to wash your hands after several tasks each day, but it’s imperative if you want to avoid preventable diseases. This practice is especially important during cold and flu season. By washing your hands frequently, you can help keep yourself and your loved ones healthy this year.