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Personal hygiene

4-minute read

Good personal hygiene is one of the best ways to protect yourself from getting illnesses such as gastroenteritis and the common cold. Washing your hands with soap removes germs that can make you ill. Maintaining good personal hygiene will also help prevent you from spreading diseases to other people.

What is personal hygiene?

Personal hygiene includes:

  • cleaning your body every day
  • washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet
  • brushing your teeth twice a day
  • covering your mouth and nose with a tissue (or your sleeve) when sneezing or coughing
  • washing your hands after handling pets and other animals

Why is personal hygiene important?

Good hygiene is vital because it helps prevent you and your children from getting or spreading germs and infectious diseases. The germs that cause many diseases can be passed on through touching other people, getting faeces (poo) on your hands, handling contaminated food and coming into contact with dirty surfaces or objects.

Conditions that you can develop if you have poor personal hygiene include:

Washing your body

Try to bath or shower each day. Wash well, especially under your armpits and around your genitals and anus. Keeping clean will prevent skin irritations and remove bacteria that cause body odour.

Wash yourself with soap, shower gel or a hypoallergenic body wash. Soap removes more germs, but you may need to wash sensitive body parts with plain water or salt water.

If there is no tap water or it is scarce, clean yourself with a clean wet cloth or sponge.

Washing your hands

To avoid getting sick, wash your hands properly.

  • Wet your hands, then wash with soap or with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser for at least 20 seconds. Lather between the fingers and the back of your hands.
  • Clean grubby nails with a scrubbing brush, if one is available.
  • Rinse both sides of your hands, preferably under clean running water.
  • Dry off your hands with a clean towel or let them dry in the air.

When to wash your hands

It is especially important to wash your hands after going to the toilet because faeces, which you might come into contact with, contains billions of germs. Also, wash your hands:

  • before and after eating or preparing food
  • after changing babies’ nappies
  • before and after touching a sick person or cleaning up vomit or body fluids
  • after blowing your nose
  • before and after treating cuts or wounds
  • after touching rubbish, dirty surfaces or objects
  • after handling pets or farm animals

Find out more here about hand washing.

Washing your genitals

Men who are uncircumcised can clean their penis by gently pulling back the foreskin and washing underneath it with warm water or soap. See more here about penis care.

Women can gently wash the delicate skin around the vulva with a soap-free wash, salt water or plain water. Avoid perfumed soap and bath products since these may irritate the sensitive skin of the vulva. Do not douche, because it upsets the healthy good bacteria in your vagina.

During menstruation (your periods), wash your vulva as usual. Tampons can be changed every 3 to 4 hours. To avoid toxic shock syndrome, do not leave a tampon in for more than 8 hours. Change sanitary pads several times a day. Wash your hands before and after changing tampons or pads.

Preventing body odour

After washing, apply deodorant to your armpits. Put on clean, dry clothing. Wash sweaty or dirty garments well and, if possible, hang them outdoors to dry. If you have a problem with excessive sweating, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Handling food safely

Wash your hands before and after preparing food. This will stop you contaminating food and will also protect you from getting ill or passing on bacteria from foodstuffs, such as raw meat. Find out more here about food safety.

Preventing bad breath

Bad breath can be caused by poor oral hygiene. Brush and floss your teeth twice a day since this reduces gum disease and the chances of future tooth decay. Use these dental care tips and make an appointment with a dentist for a check-up if you have further symptoms.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2019

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