How Does Handwashing Help Against Disease?

Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments. 

Preventing the spread of disease can be as easy as A, B, C.

Using good hygiene can help prevent you and others from getting sick with respiratory and diarrheal illnesses. That includes the cold, flu, and COVID-19.

And one way you can practice good hygiene is by regularly washing your hands. The activity can remove germs to help you stay healthy.

Never Miss a Beat!

Sign up for COVID-19 Alerts from UPMC

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

When Should I Wash My Hands?

It’s never a bad time to wash your hands, but it’s especially important before or after you do certain things:

  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • After touching common surfaces such as tables, countertops, and doorknobs
  • While taking care of someone who is sick
  • After going to the bathroom
  • Before, during, and after making food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after treating a cut
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who went to the bathroom
  • After touching an animal, animal waste, or animal food
  • After touching garbage

How Should I Wash My Hands?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

If soap and water are unavailable, you can use hand sanitizer. The CDC says the hand sanitizer you use should contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

To properly wash your hands:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water. The water can be warm or cold.
  • Apply soap to your hands and rub them together to lather the soap. You also should lather the back of your hands, between your fingers, and underneath your nails.
  • Rub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands under clean water.
  • Use a clean towel to dry your hands, or air dry them.

To use hand sanitizer, apply the gel to one of your palms and rub your hands together. Rub the gel all over your hands and fingers for at least 20 seconds, until your hands are dry.

If you want to make sure you wash your hands for 20 seconds, you can sing the “ABCs” or “Happy Birthday” twice.

UPMC takes steps to ensure its facilities are clean and sanitary for patients and visitors. Washing your hands according to the steps above may help prevent you from getting sick.

About Infectious Diseases

If you have a disease caused by bacteria, fungi, parasite, or virus, the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Diseases can help. Our team of experts is specially trained in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, including of HIV-AIDs, postsurgical and transplant infections, illnesses caused by international travel, and more. We research infectious diseases and participate in clinical trials to learn more and develop better treatment and prevention methods. Visit our website to find an expert near you.