Clean hands save lives. Washing our hands is easy, quick to do and can stop the spread of germs from person to person.  The first week of December is Handwashing Awareness Week — a time to review handwashing and hand hygiene guidelines. Working in the healthcare field, hand hygiene is even more critical to prevent the spread of germs.

According to the CDC, cleaning your hands can prevent the spread of germs, including those that are resistant to antibiotics and becoming more difficult to treat. On average, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half of the times they should. Take the time to focus on washing or sanitizing your hands to keep yourself, your colleagues and our patients healthy.

What is hand hygiene? Hand Hygiene means cleaning your hands by using either handwashing (washing hands with soap and water), antiseptic hand wash, or antiseptic hand rub (i.e. alcohol-based hand sanitizer foam or gel). In healthcare settings, we often focus on hand hygiene and use hand sanitizers during patient care.

These 4 principles of hand awareness are endorsed by the American Medical Association to minimize infectious diseases:
1. Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating
2. Don’t cough into your hands 
3. Don’t sneeze into your hands 
4. Don’t put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth

Read these 5 steps to ensure your handwashing technique meets the recommendations:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 15-20 seconds. Need help keeping time? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. According to the CDC, either 15 or 20 seconds is acceptable and the key is to clean yours hands at the correct times.
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.


In the healthcare setting in particular, when should I clean my hands?

  • Before eating
  • Before and after direct contact with a patient’s intact skin (taking a pulse or blood pressure, performing physical examinations)
  • After contact with blood, body fluids or excretions, mucous membranes, non-intact skin, or wound dressings
  • After contact with inanimate objects (including medical equipment) in the immediate vicinity of the patient
  • If hands will be moving from a contaminated-body site to a clean-body site during patient care
  • After glove removal
  • After using a restroom

According to some estimates, healthcare providers may need to perform hand hygiene (washing or sanitizing) up to 8 times per hour!  Check out this infographic on the CDC’s hand sanitizing technique.

Do gloves prevent me from needing to perform hand hygiene?  No, gloves alone are not enough.