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When done correctly, handwashing is your best protection against the spread of germs that can make people sick.

Learn when and how to wash your hands to keep yourself and others healthy.

Guidance for health care settings

These recommendations are for handwashing in community settings such as at home, school, work, or child care. Visit the Department of Health Services (DHS) Precautions webpage for guidance and resources for hand hygiene in health care settings.


When to wash your hands

You should wash your hands often to stay healthy, especially during these key times:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating
  • After touching garbage
  • After using the restroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, and sneezing
  • After changing diapers or helping a child use the toilet
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a wound
  • After touching animals, animal feed, and animal waste
  • If your hands are visibly dirty

Hand sanitizers kill germs on your hands, while washing your hands with soap and water removes germs from your hands. Both are good options for keeping your hands clean. You should use soap and water to wash your hands whenever they are visibly dirty. You should also use soap and water to wash your hands when you are caring for someone sick with diarrhea. For more information on when to use soap and water or hand sanitizer, visit the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website.

How to wash your hands

Good handwashing technique is easy to learn and can significantly reduce the spread of germs.

When washing your hands with soap and water, follow these steps:

  1. Wet your hands with warm running water.
  2. Add soap, then rub your hands together. Do this away from the running water for at least 20 seconds, being careful not to wash the lather away. Wash the front and back of your hands, as well as between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  4. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel.

When using hand sanitizer, follow these steps:

  1. Apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
  2. Cover all surfaces of your hands.
  3. Rub your hands and fingers together until they are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.

Educational resources and printable materials


Last revised November 16, 2023