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Wash Your Hands

Why should I wash my hands?

  • Washing your hands helps to prevent the spread of infections.
  • Washing your hands removes visible dirt and reduces the number of germs on your hands. 
  • This makes it less likely that germs will be spread from your hands to food, wounds and to other surfaces that you may touch. 

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How can I be sure my hands are washed enough?

Usually plain soap and water will do the job. To wash your hands properly:

  1. Wet hands under warm running water.
  2. Scrub hands all over with soap for a count of 10. More time may be needed if hands are visibly soiled.
  3. Rinse under warm running water for a count of 10.
  4. Dry with a clean towel.
  5. Turn taps off with the towel. 

If the water is not fit to drink, for example untreated water, because of germs (bacteria, viruses or parasites), it may not be safe for handwashing. Use a hand disinfectant after washing with soap and water.

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What if there’s no soap and water available?

  • In the absence of soap and water, you can use waterless handwash products such as hand disinfectants, baby wipes or towelettes.

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What is a hand disinfectant?

  • Hand disinfectants are alcohol-based rubs, gels, rinses or wipes that are used to kill germs living on your hands. 
  • Hand disinfectants generally contain 60% to 70% alcohol. 

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How safe are hand disinfectants?

  • Hand disinfectants are safe when used according to the product’s directions. 
  • The alcohol in the disinfectant completely evaporates in about 15 seconds. 
  • Apply hand lotion after using the hand disinfectant if it does not contain a skin-softening ingredient such as aloe. This will balance the drying effect of alcohol on your skin.
  • When preparing food in a food service establishment, hand sanitizers are not acceptable because they are not effective when hands are dirty or wet.

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Is it safe to use hand disinfectants for a child’s hands?

Hand disinfectants can be used on the hands of children (over 1 year) in the absence of soap and water, but parents or caregivers need to consider the following factors:

  • Your child’s age and ability to use the product safely
  • Storage and transportation of the product, especially outside of the home or at school

While these products are safe for children (over 1 year), a young child should be supervised when using a hand disinfectant. Make sure children do not eat or drink the disinfectant, or touch their eyes, nose or mouth while the disinfectant is still wet on their hands. A child can safely touch their eyes, nose or mouth once the alcohol in the hand disinfectant has evaporated and their hands are dry. Liquid hand disinfectants may spill if caps are not secure or if the bottle is tilted. 

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How do I use a hand disinfectant?

  • Read the directions on the bottle or packaging.
  • Visible dirt should first be taken off your hands by washing with soap and water, a baby wipe or a towelette. Hand disinfectants do not work on visible dirt, so wash your hands with soap and warm water first, even if the water is not fit to drink. 
  • If you were able to wash your hands first, carefully dry your hands. Water on wet hands will dilute the alcohol content of the hand disinfectant and weaken its effect. 
  • Apply enough disinfectant to cover all areas of your hands, including under your nails. The size of a dime is usually enough.
  • Rub the hand disinfect all over your hands, for about 15 seconds, or until your hands feel dry, whichever is longer. 

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Is it safe to use baby wipes for a child’s hands?

  • Baby wipes are also safe for children’s hands. These will remove dirt but will not disinfect. Baby wipes are easy to transport and can be kept moist inside a self-sealing plastic bag or small container.

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Adapted from: Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Related Links

  • Why Don't We Do It In Our Sleeves? External Link   

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