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Hand Cleaning

One of the quickest and easiest ways to fight the flu is to clean your hands! Hand washing can help to protect you, your family members and others from spreading everyday illnesses at home, school or work.

This information is not intended to address specific hand decontamination requirements for health professionals caring for patients. If you are a health care professional, see CDC's Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings.


CDC’s Wash Your Hands

What You Use to Clean Your Hands

A pair of hands with soap suds, being washed under a faucet.

Alcohol hand sanitizers

Alcohol hand sanitizers are alcohol-based liquid, gel, rub, or foam hand cleaners. They don’t require water to clean hands and kill most germs that cause disease and illness, like colds or flu. Alcohol hand sanitizers are not effective on germs that live in your intestines.

Not all hand sanitizers contain alcohol: Check the label. Use only alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol

Soap and water

Use soap & water instead of alcoholhand sanitizer when hands are visibly dirty or soiled. Wash your hands before eating or preparing food, after handling raw meat, after handling animal waste, and after using the restroom, changing diapers, or assisting someone with toileting.

How to clean your hands

When using soap and water:

  1. Wet hands using warm water.
  2. Add soap to make lather.
  3. Rub your palms, backs of hands, and between fingers.
  4. Rub your hands for at least 15 seconds.
  5. Thoroughly rinse your hands and dry well.

When using alcohol-based hand sanitizers:

  1. Apply to the palm of one hand (to use on both hands)
  2. Rub palms, back of hands, and between fingers.
  3. Rub your palms, backs of hands, and between fingers.
  4. Rub until hands are dry. If it does not take at least 30 seconds, you may need to add more alcohol hand sanitizer.

When to clean hands

Clean hands before:

  • Eating or preparing food (use soap and water)
  • Caring for someone who is sick
  • Treating a cut or wound
  • Visiting a patient’s room

Clean hands after:

  • Going to the bathroom (use soap and water)
  • Handling raw meat (use soap and water)
  • Handling animal waste (use soap and water)
  • Changing diapers or assisting someone with toileting (use soap and water)
  • Caring for someone sick
  • Blowing your nose
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Touching garbage
  • Touching an animal
  • Treating a cut or wound
  • Leaving a patient’s room

Remember… Clean hands help keep germs away. For more information, see CDC’s Wash Your Hands or watch VA's fighting germs video (Length: 02:49).

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