Our bodies are covered with germs, called resident germs, that help us stay healthy. We also get germs from contact with other people or objects in the environment. These types of germs, called transient germs, are easy to pick up and transfer, and can make you or others sick. While it is commonly believed that germs are spread through the air, the easiest way to spread germs is through hand contact. In a hospital setting with many patients at risk of infection, it is important to help prevent the spread of germs.

One of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs is to wash your hands with soap and water

You can also reduce the amount of germs on your hands by using alcohol-containing preparations (hand rubs), in the form of gels, rinses or foams. While alcohol-containing preparations reduce germs on your hands, they cannot remove visible soil or contamination. It is always important to wash your hands with soap and water any time they are visibly dirty.

Follow these steps to make sure you wash your hands the right way

  • If using a cloth towel to dry hands, have it close at hand before you start to wash
  • Wet hands with water
  • Apply soap to hands — lotion soap is best. Germs can live on bar soap, but if used, it should be stored on a rack between uses
  • Rub hands together for at least 15 seconds (say the ABCs or sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to make sure you’ve washed long enough)
  • Cover all surfaces of hands, fingers and thumbs
  • Rinse hands well to remove all soap
  • Dry hands gently using soft paper towels; if using cloth towels, remember that damp towels may also have germs on them
  • Use a towel to turn off the faucet

When to wash your hands

Children and adults should wash with plain soap:

  • When hands are visibly dirty
  • Before leaving the exam or patient room
  • After removing medical gloves
  • Before contact with your child
  • Before eating
  • Before preparing food items
  • After touching raw meats like chicken or beef
  • After contact with any body fluids like blood, urine or vomit
  • After changing infant or adult diapers
  • After touching animals and pets
  • After using the restroom

In this video, a team from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia sings and dances to encourage kids, parents and hospital staff to wash their hands.


When to use alcohol hand rubs

  • For routine cleaning of hands any time they are not visibly dirty
  • If you have contact with contaminated objects in the environment
  • Before and after you care for or have contact with someone who is very sick, very old or very young
  • After touching another person’s intact skin (for example, shaking hands or holding hands — especially when the other person has a cold or other illness)

How to use alcohol hand rubs

  • Apply product to palm of one hand
  • Rub hands together
  • Cover all surfaces of hands and fingers
  • Rub until hands are dry
  • When using alcohol hand rubs, you have used enough if it takes 25 – 30 seconds to dry on your hands (about 1/2 teaspoon)

My hands are dry. Won’t alcohol sting or make them drier?

  • When used on dry or chafed skin, alcohol hand rubs may cause a temporary stinging effect
  • Emollients are added to alcohol hand rubs to restore moisture to the skin
  • Choose alcohol hand rubs with 1 percent to 3 percent glycerol or other skin conditioning agents as emollients
  • Choose alcohol hand rubs that contain greater than 60 percent alcohol, usually listed as ethanol or ethyl alcohol under active ingredients
  • Alcohol-based hand rubs, rinses or gels containing emollients cause much less skin irritation and dryness than plain or antimicrobial soaps
  • It is not necessary, or recommended, to routinely wash hands after application of alcohol-based hand rubs
  • Do not wipe off alcohol hand rubs. Let hands air-dry
  • Use of antimicrobial hand wipes is considered equivalent to hand washing, but they are not as effective in killing germs as alcohol hand rubs

Your skin

The skin is a barrier that protects the body from exposure to disease-causing germs. Healthy skin is “intact” skin. This means the skin is free from nicks, cuts, scrapes, cracks and rashes. Skin damage decreases the skin’s ability to act as a protective barrier. It is important to prevent dry skin. Germs can attach more easily to dry skin, and open areas may allow entry of germs into our bodies. In spite of many factors beyond our control, these choices may help to keep our skin barrier intact:

  • Wear gloves and warm clothing when it is cold
  • Wash hands with warm, not hot, water
  • Pat skin dry, rather than rubbing
  • Wear protective gloves when handling chemicals or cleaning agents
  • Choose hand hygiene products that are dermatologist tested for mildness
  • Use hand moisturizers often, preferably when skin is damp
  • Avoid leaving soap on hands, as it dries the skin

The dirty truth about fingernails

Thousands of germs can survive under and around fingernails. Be sure to clean areas under fingernails if they are visibly dirty, and pay special attention to these areas when you wash or use alcohol hand rubs. Freshly applied nail polish does not increase the numbers of germs present, but chipped nail polish may harbor germs. Persons with artificial nails are more likely to have more germs under and around nails than those who do not wear them.

Partners in the care of your child

It’s OK to ask your healthcare providers if they have washed their hands or used an alcohol hand rub before touching your child. We all need reminders from time to time, and we encourage you to partner with us in the care of your child. Having clean hands is the best means of preventing the spread of germs that cause infections. We also ask that you cover your cough or sneeze, throw away tissues immediately after use, and wash your hands afterwards, of course. These are all good ways to stop germs in their tracks.

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