Hand hygiene: how to wash your hands effectively

Wondering how long you should wash your hands for and what the best procedure for hand washing is? Read our guide to hand hygiene for all the answers.

Updated 28 June 2019

Washing hands under a running tap to practice good hand hygiene

Key steps

  1. For thorough hand hygiene, use a bristled brush to gently but thoroughly clean under your nails and around your cuticles.
  2. Spend at least 20 seconds on washing your hands.
  3. If you’ve been cooking or eating, or you’ve been at a hospital, or treating a wound, you’ll need to spend longer washing your hands. 

Hand washing is an easy way to keep your home, and your family, clean. Any person in your home will come into contact with a number of items via their hands – doorknobs, countertops, pets, faces, food, bathrooms, utensils and so on. If hand hygiene is not up to scratch then this can lead to cross-contamination and may lead to colds, infections and other illnesses.

To find out how to update your procedure for hand washing, read our top tips on when it’s important to soap-up and how best to do it.

Using soap and water to clean your hands after typically dirty tasks will make a massive difference to the health of you and your family. Teach your children about hand hygiene from an early age to get them into good habits.

How to wash your hands

Let us guess, you already know this one right? Apply soap, rub hands together, rinse off. Sound about right?

Actually, if you want to give your hands a proper and thorough clean then you need to make sure you’re doing more than giving them a quick splash under the tap. Younger family members may not be quite as vigilant with their hand washing, or require a little assistance too, so it’s important to brush up on the basic procedure for hand washing yourself.

  • Get your hands wet (cold or warm water) and apply enough soap to get suds on every surface of your hands. If you have sensitive skin or you just prefer your soap to be as kind to your skin as possible, we recommend Neutral 0% Hand Wash.
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  • Make some bubbles! Rub your hands palm to palm vigorously, then with one hand over the top of the other to get in-between your fingers. Switch hands.
  • Interlace your fingers, palm to palm, to get in-between the base of your fingers.
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  • Make a fist around your left thumb with your right hand and gently twist back and forth. Switch hands.
  • Using either your other hand or a bristled brush, clean under your fingernails and around cuticles.
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  • Dry well, with a clean towel or hand dryer – your ‘clean’ trousers don’t count!

By the way, if hand washing isn’t an option for whatever reason then the exact same movements apply when using hand sanitizer.

How long should you wash your hands for?

How long you spend washing your hands will depend on how dirty they are. If you’re just freshening up after using the bathroom or doing the washing up then the above procedure should take you around 20 seconds.

If you’ve been working outside, decorating or have got a greater level of dirt on your hands then you may need to repeat the hand washing procedure a few times and spend a little longer at the sink.

When to practise hand hygiene

Given that the purpose of hand washing is to stop the spread of germs, infections, and their microscopic cousins, it makes sense that hand washing is the next (and necessary) step whenever you come into contact with them.

The best times to practise good hand hygiene are before and after certain tasks.

This means washing your hands before:

  • Cooking or preparing food (you should wash your hands during this process too)
  • Eating (at home or at a restaurant)
  • Treating a wound, cut, skin irritation or abrasion
  • Visiting the hospital or entering a hospital room

And after:

  • Using the bathroom
  • Handling raw meat
  • Coughing, sneezing, etc.
  • Petting animals
  • Taking out the rubbish or cleaning
  • Changing a nappy
  • Working in the garden
  • Helping an injured person
  • Visiting the hospital

Now that we’re clear on hand hygiene, pass on the techniques to your family – especially kids.

A great way to practice is to teach them the movements, then practise by singing the Happy Birthday song together, twice in a row. By the time you’re done singing, their hands will be clean and they won’t see it as a chore!

For more information on the ingredients in products mentioned in this tip, visit What’s in Unilever Products here.

Originally published 19 July 2018