Why Wash Your Hands?

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Why Wash Your Hands?

Hands are the part of the body that are most exposed to germs and substances in the home, the environment and areas shared with other people such as offices, schools, hospitals, shopping centres and public transport.

Your body harbours a wide selection of microorganisms — intestinal/faecal, oral, nasal, dermal — as well as carrying many others picked up from the environment. All these actions that you do without thinking can pick up unwanted germs, dirt or chemicals and transmit them to your mouth or to other objects or people.

It may seem obvious when you think about it, but there are multiple ways that your hands pick up and spread many different types of bacteria, viruses and even parasites:

  • Eat food and prepare food: pick up food-borne diseases from eg raw chicken, and contaminate food with oral, faecal or other microorganisms
  • Touch or carry objects: pick up microorganisms from and transfer them to surfaces
  • Clean things: hands can pick up dust-borne and water-borne microorganisms in the environment
  • Scratch or wipe your body: introduce microorganisms into cuts or pick up some of the many microorganisms that inhabit your skin and body cavities
  • Shake other people’s hands: exchange germs with other people
  • Sneezing into your hands: cold or flu viruses and many other germs that inhabit your nose, throat and airways

Unwashed hands can quickly spread germs around a building via:

  • Door and cupboard handles
  • Taps
  • Kettles
  • Telephones
  • Photocopier and printer buttons
  • Mice
  • Keyboards

Poor hand hygiene is the main cause of preventable illness in offices, schools, hospitals and food establishments. In businesses hand-spread microorganisms cause a high proportion of time off work. If you handle or prepare food for other people your hands can contaminate the food and make other people ill.

The common touch

A dye that fluoresces in UV light can show where people touch common areas such as in washrooms and offices. This image shows the parts of the hand that picks up most germs through touching common objects in offices.

The purpose of washing hands is to remove dirt, dangerous chemicals and microorganisms that can cause disease or contaminate food and items that people use.

The simple act of hand washing will reduce the risk of stomach bugs by nearly half (47%).

How washing hands works

  • The warm water and soap suspends the dirt and grease containing germs and contaminating substances
  • Friction from rubbing hands together pulls the dirt and grease away from the skin
  • Rinsing in running water washes away the suspended dirt and grease, helped by further rubbing
  • Wiping hands dry remove more germs and dry hands are safer because they transfer far fewer germs to things you touch than wet hands

When to wash your hands

There are many situations when your hands can pick up germs or transfer germs to objects or people and when hand washing will help protect you or others.

Wash your hands in these situations:

  • Before eating 
  • Before handling foods 
  • Before giving medications 
  • Before putting contact lenses in eyes 
  • Before and after touching any animals (you can give them germs too) 
  • After going to the toilet 
  • On arriving at work or school 
  • After coughing or sneezing 
  • After getting visible soil on hands 
  • After handling raw meat/poultry or unwashed fruits and vegetables 
  • After smoking, eating or drinking 
  • After visiting shops and handling shopping trolleys, baskets, shop goods 
  • After going on public transport 
  • After touching sores, lacerations or infected areas on yourself or others 
  • After cleaning eg wiping table tops, kitchen surfaces, using a mop 
  • After playing/working outside 
  • After playing with pets


1. Employee Hygiene and Handwashing in Retail Foodservice Establishments. http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/februarymarch-2016/employee-hygiene-and-handwashing-in-retail-foodservice-establishments/ 

2. Minnesota Department of Public Health, Hand Hygiene. http://www.health.state.mn.us/handhygiene/index.html

Further information

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