Hand-washing: FAQs

1) What are the most common ways germs are spread?handwashing
Some germs are spread through the air by coughs and sneezes, but hands play a big role. One of the most common ways to pick up germs is by touching something that is contaminated and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes. You can also spread germs to others by touching objects or people with your hands.

2) How can I protect myself from germs?
To protect yourself from germs, thoroughly wash your hands. And to protect others around you, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cover your mouth when you cough.

3) When should I wash my hands?
Often! It’s important to clean your hands before, during and after you prepare food and before you eat. You should especially do so after using the bathroom, touching animals or handling their waste, and when you’re around somebody who’s sick.

4) How does washing my hands help lower my risk of getting sick?
Some viruses can live up to two hours or longer on surfaces like tables, desks and doorknobs. By frequently washing your hands, you get rid of germs that you have picked up from other people, surfaces or animals.

5) What’s the right way to wash my hands?

  • Wet your hands and apply liquid or bar soap. If using a bar of soap, be sure to place it on a rack and allow it to drain after use.
  • Rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces of hands and wrists.
  • Continue for 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands.

soapbars6) Do I have to use soap?
Yes. Water alone will not remove bacteria from your hands. Both soap and water work together to loosen up and remove germs, oils and bacteria from skin.

7) Is it better to wash my hands with hot or cold water?
Contrary to popular belief, washing your hands in hot water isn’t the best way to go. When washing your hands, the water should be comfortable. You don’t want to wash your hands in scalding hot water, and warm water works just as well. The oils on your hands hold bacteria and germs, and warm water and soap is effective enough to remove them. Warm water also trumps cold water, which is less effective at removing oils and germs.

8) Is it better to dry your hands with a towel or an air dryer?
There’s no difference, according to a 2000 study from the Mayo Clinic that tested cloth towels, paper towels, air dryers and evaporation. The study showed none of the methods were more effective than others in removing bacteria from washed hands.

9) What about hand sanitizer?
Hand sanitizer is a great hand hygiene solution when soap and water are not available. It can kill almost all harmful germs, but it shouldn’t replace hand-washing. If you use sanitizer, make sure it has an alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent.

10) Should I use antibacterial soap?
Regular soap works just as well. A 2007 study found that when compared to plain soap, antibacterial soap wasn’t more effective at preventing infectious illness symptoms or reducing bacterial levels on hands. And in April 2010, the Food and Drug Administration said it lacked evidence that triclosan, the most common ingredient found in antibacterial soaps, has any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.


More hand-washing information to read & share!
Visit the Get Ready hand-washing page to download free fact sheets in English and Spanish, watch our video and get tips for handwashing at day cares.