Every day you come in contact with thousands of invisible germs. These can make you sick. Keeping your hands clean will help you stay well and prevent the spread of disease.
Key points about hand hygiene
- Clean your hands regularly, even if they don’t look dirty.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, and dry them thoroughly.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if you don’t have immediate access to soap and water.
(American Heart Association, US, 2020)
When should I wash my hands?
When your hands look dirty, it's easy to tell that they need washing. But most of the time you won't see the germs that need to be cleaned off. That's why you should always wash and dry your hands at the following times:
How do I wash my hands properly?
- Wet your hands with clean, running water – use warm water if available. Turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap – liquid is best. Rub hands together until the soap makes bubbles. Make sure to rub on both sides of both hands and in between your fingers and thumbs.
- Rub 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 clean, running water – use warm water if available.
- Dry your hands – using a paper towel is best or, if at home, a clean dry towel.
Plain soap is as good as antiseptic soap
|Antiseptics may be added to hand cleansers. However, plain soap has been shown to be just as effective as hand cleansers or soaps with added antiseptic agents.|
Golden rules with Panatahi – hand hygiene
(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020)
When and how do I use a hand sanitiser?
If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that can be used without water is a good alternative. Look for one with 60–80% alcohol (ideally 75%).
- Apply one squirt of hand rub in a cupped hand.
- Rub hands palm to palm, up to and including your wrists.
- Rub your right palm over the back of your left hand with linked fingers and vice versa.
- Rub palm to palm with fingers linked.
- Rub the backs of your fingers to opposing palms with fingers interlocked.
- Rub around your left thumb held in your right palm and vice versa.
- Rub around firmly the closed fingers of your right hand in your left palm and vice versa.
- Once dry, your hands are safe.
Hand sanitiser does not kill as many germs as soap does
Hand sanitiser does not kill some of the germs that cause diarrhoea (runny poos) and vomiting (being sick), so you should wash your hands with soap and water after contact with someone with these symptoms, even if you used gloves. Washing your hands with soap is also more effective than hand sanitiser against other viruses such as COVID-19.
Hygiene and hand washing KidsHealth, NZ
Hand hygiene Hand Hygiene, NZ
Hand washing – clean hands save lives Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, US
Why? Show me the science – data behind why & how to wash hands Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, US
- Antibacterial soap no more effective than plain soap at reducing bacterial contamination Oxford University Press via ScienceDaily, 16 September 2015
|Dr Alice Miller trained as a GP in the UK and has been working in New Zealand since 2013. She has undertaken extra study in diabetes, sexual and reproductive healthcare, and skin cancer medicine. Alice has a special interest in preventative health and self-care, which she is building on by studying for the Diploma of Public Health with the University of Otago in Wellington.|