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Hand washing

2-minute read

As you go about your everyday life, germs accumulate on your hands. After you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, germs carried there can cause infections. Hand washing is a simple but effective way to prevent the spread of harmful germs.

Good hand hygiene

If you care for babies, older people or sick people, hand washing is especially important because it helps prevent the spread of common infections such as colds, the flu and gastroenteritis.

Babies and children need to wash their hands too. If your child is too young to stand at a hand basin, you can wash their hands with disposable wipes or a wet, soapy flannel, but always make sure all soap is rinsed off and their hands thoroughly dried.

Hand washing is also one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infection among people in hospital. People’s immune systems are often weakened after illness or surgery, so infections are easy to catch and hard to treat. They may become life-threatening.

When to wash your hands

Wash your hands before touching anything that needs to stay clean, and after touching anything that might contaminate your hands.

Examples include:

  • when your hands are visibly dirty
  • after going to the toilet
  • after helping a child go to the toilet, or changing a nappy
  • after handling rubbish, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated
  • before you prepare or eat food
  • after touching raw meat
  • after blowing your nose or sneezing
  • after patting an animal
  • after cleaning up blood, vomit or other body fluids
  • before and after you visit a sick person in hospital
  • before and after touching a wound, cut or rash.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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