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Hand washing; Hand-washing; Washing your hands; Handwashing - COVID-19; Washing your hands - COVID-19

Washing your hands often during the day is an important way to help reduce the spread of germs and prevent illness. Learn when you should wash your hands and how to wash them properly.





Nearly everything we touch is covered with germs. This includes bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can make us sick. You don't have to see dirt on an object for it to spread germs. If you touch something with germs on it, and then touch your own body the germs can spread to you. If you have germs on your hands and touch something or shake someone's hand, you can pass the germs on to the next person. Touching foods or drinks with unwashed hands can spread germs to the person who consumes them.

Washing your hands often during the day can help prevent the spread of a number of different illnesses. Here are a few examples:


You can protect yourself and others from illness by washing your hands often. You should wash your hands:


There is a proper way to wash your hands that works best to get them fully clean. For cleaning your hands, all you need is soap and running water. Soap lifts dirt and germs from your skin, which is then washed away by the water.

Soap and water work the best, but if you don't have access to them, you can use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer works nearly as well as soap and water to kill germs.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Show me the science - why wash your hands? Updated September 17, 2018. Accessed April 11, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Show me the science - when & how to use hand sanitizer in community settings. Updated March 3, 2020. Accessed April 11, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. When and how to wash your hands. Updated April 2, 2020. Accessed April 11, 2020.


Review Date: 4/11/2020  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 05/25/20.

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