On this page

How and when to wash your hands

Hands being washed in sink
On this page

We’re always here for you and your family, helping you to stay healthy and protected from illness.

Why is it important to wash your hands?

Did you know that regularly washing your hands is the easiest way to protect yourself, your family and those around you from illnesses and food poisoning? Washing your hands properly helps to remove dirt, viruses and bacteria, and it can stop these from being spread to other people, objects and surfaces.

How long should I wash my hands for?

You should always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. One of the best ways to do this is to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice. We’ll leave it up to you whether you sing it aloud or in your head!

So next time you’re washing your hands you can sing the song or count the seconds in your head, whatever helps you to wash your hands for the correct length of time.

If you’re wondering how exactly to wash your hands, then follow our hand washing steps:

How to wash your hands

Hand washing top tips

Although important to protect against infections, hand washing can take its toll on your skin as it’s stripping your skin of its natural protective barrier. But, there’s ways to protect your skin, while maintaining good hygiene: 

  • When washing your hands, try to use warm water rather than very hot. Hot water can dry your skin.
  • Try to use a soap that is both anti-bacterial and moisturising.
  • Apply a hand cream after you’ve washed your hands to stop your skin from losing moisture.

If you have a skin condition, such as eczema make sure you might find it better to use an emollient soap substitute as bar or liquid soaps can dry out your skin. They don’t foam like a normal soap but are just as effective at cleaning your skin.

Emollients can help prevent flare-ups and inflammation. You can also get emollients in other forms, including lotions, sprays, creams and ointments. The NHS suggests applying emollients frequently and in large amounts to help keep your skin hydrated and help protect it from allergens and irritants.

When should you wash your hands?

Regularly washing your hands can help you to stay healthy, using soap and water is best. You should always wash your hands if they are visibly dirty but there are also other times when you are more likely to encounter germs and more likely to spread them.

You should always wash your hands after:

  • Going to the toilet or helping someone else to
  • You have been sick
  • You have cared for some who is vomiting or has diarrhoea
  • Changing a nappy
  • Blowing your nose
  • You cough or sneeze
  • Touching rubbish or taking the bin out
  • Touching animals and pets
  • Touching animal food or treats, animal waste or cages/bedding

You should always wash your hands before and after:

  • Cooking with raw foods, including meat and vegetables
  • You eat or touch food
  • Treating a wound such as applying a plaster
  • Having sex or sexual activity

You should also wash your hands when you get into work and when you get home afterwards.

What else can I do?

Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to keep them clean, but when you’re out and about, or at work, this may not always be possible.

There are things you can do to help keep your hands clean, such as using hand sanitiser gel when you can’t wash your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitisers can help to clean your hands; however, they are not as effective as soap, especially if your hands are visibility dirty.

Remember to look for alcohol-based gels, that have over 60% alcohol content.

How to use hand sanitisers:

  1. Apply the gel to the palm of one hand
  2. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds or until your hands are dry

Make sure to rub the gel across each part of your hands and fingers and remember to read the instructions on the packaging before you use the hand gel.

Things to avoid

To help stop the spread of germs there are a few things you can avoid, including:

  • Biting your nails
  • Touching your face and eyes if your hands are not clean
  • Preparing and eating food on dirty kitchen counters, chopping boards and other surfaces