How and when to wash your hands
Why it’s important
Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria. It stops them spreading to other people and objects, which can cause illnesses such as food poisoning, flu or diarrhoea. Hand washing can help stop people from picking up infections and spreading them to others.
You should always wash your hands:
- after using the toilet or changing a nappy
- before and after handling raw foods like meat and vegetables
- before eating or handling food
- after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
- before and after treating a cut or wound
- after touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages
Wash your hands for the amount of time it takes to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice (around 20 seconds).
If you do not have immediate access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand gel if available.
Strategies to help a child develop their hand washing skills
You may need to prompt hand washing at appropriate times, either verbally and/or by gesture. A hand washing poster or symbol on display by the sink may help. You can also follow the instructions and pictures below.
Assessing a safe water temperature may be difficult for some children and they may need assistance. Some children may find slightly warm water more tolerable than cold water.
You can also use a step for children to reach the sink easily.
Some people may find sitting down easier. Handle extensions on taps to make it easier to grasp and turn them.
How to wash your hands
Wet your hands with water.
Rub hands together.
Use 1 hand to rub the back of the other hand and clean in between the fingers. Do the same with the other hand.
Rub your hands together and clean in between your fingers.
Rub the back of your fingers against your palms.
Rub your thumb using your other hand. Do the same with your other hand.
Rub the tips of your fingers on the palm of your other hand.
Rinse your hands with water.
Dry your hands completely with a disposable towel.
Use the disposable towel to turn off the tap.
More resources to help children and young people wash their hands effectively
Resource packs for teachers including posters and reward charts.
Watch the video below about why, when and how to wash your hands:
Watch the video below with a child to show them how to wash their hands: