Health Department
Why/How/When to Wash Your Hands!

Why should we wash our hands?

Despite its rocky beginnings, handwashing has become a part of our culture. Handwashing and other hygienic practices are taught at every level of school, advocated in the work place, and emphasized during medical training. According to the United States Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Handwashing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection."

Yet, recent studies and reports indicate that lack of or improper handwashing still contributes significantly to disease transmission. While we are all potentially at risk of contracting hand-transmitted illnesses, one-third of our population is especially vulnerable, including pregnant women, children, old people, and those with weakened immune systems.

CDC cites five common household scenarios in which disease-causing germs can be transmitted by contaminated hands.

  1. Hands to food: germs are transmitted from unclean hands to food, usually by an infected food preparer who didn't handwash after using the toilet. The germs are then passed to those who eat the food.
  2. Infected infant to hands to other children: during diaper changing, germs are passed from an infant with diarrhea to the hands of a parent; if the parent doesn't immediately wash his or her hands before handling another child, the germs that cause diarrhea are passed to the second child.
  3. Food to hands to food: germs are transmitted from raw, uncooked foods, such as chicken, to hands; the germs are then transferred to other foods, such as salad. Cooking the raw food kills the initial germs, but the salad remains contaminated.
  4. Nose, mouth, or eyes to hands to others: germs that cause colds, eye infections, and other illnesses can spread to the hands by sneezing, coughing, or rubbing the eyes and then can be transferred to other family members or friends.
  5. Food to hands to infants: germs from uncooked foods are transferred to hands and then to infants. If a parent handling raw chicken, for example, doesn't wash his or her hands before tending to an infant, they could transfer germs such as salmonella from the food to the infant.

Handwashing can prevent the transfer of germs in all five of these scenarios. CDC recommends vigorous scrubbing with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

Washing HandsAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing is the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others. It has been estimated that proper handwashing could eliminate close to half of all cases of food borne illness. Women wash their hands more often than men(74% versus 61%). A study of 305 school children found that youngsters who washed their hands 4 times a day had 24% fewer sick days due to respiratory illness and 51% fewer days due to upset stomach. –Center for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Wet hands with warm, running water. Add soap and rub your hands to make lather.
  • Do this away from the running water so you won't wash suds away.
  • Wash front and back of hands, between the fingers and under the nails for 20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands well under running water to wash away the germs that are suspended by the soap.
  • Dry hands thoroughly with a clean paper towel and then throw towel away.

When to Wash Your Hands

  • After use of the bathroom and after cleaning of the bathroom.
  • After, during, and before handling food especially raw meats.
  • After sneezing, coughing; anytime during a persons sickness.
  • Before and after you eat.
  • After visiting a sick relative or friend.
  • After play sports or playing outside,
  • After handling animals or animal waste; (keep cages clean and sanitized).
  • After changing diapers or handling diapers.
  • Anytime you hands are dirty. (You may not see the germs but they are there)

Want to Learn More?


Erie County Courthouse - 140 West Sixth Street, Erie, PA 16501 - (814) 451-6000 - TDD Phone: (814) 451-6237 - Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 4:30pm
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