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HealthInfo Canterbury

Hand hygiene

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Hand hygiene refers to cleaning your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub. Hand hygiene is the single most important way of stopping harmful germs (bacteria and viruses) spreading and causing infections.

Why is hand hygiene so important?

Everyone has germs. Our bodies are covered with germs that help us stay healthy. As well as germs that are usually on our skin, we also pick up germs from contact with other people or objects in our surroundings.

Germs are easy to pick up and transfer, so they can cause you, or others, to get sick. Although many people think that germs are spread through the air, they are most easily spread through hand contact.

One of the best ways to stop germs spreading is to clean your hands. You can wash your hands with soap and water or decontaminate your hands with hand rub.

The friction of rubbing your hands together when washing your hands helps to physically remove the germs.

Alcohol-based hand rubs kill many more germs than soap and water and dry out your skin less.

When should I clean my hands?

You should always clean your hands:

How to clean your hands correctly

Click the images below to open or download posters showing how to clean your hands with soap and water, or with hand rub.

How to handwash

How to handrub

Avoid getting sick

Regular hand hygiene, particularly before and after the activities listed above, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. It also stops germs spreading to others. It's quick, it's simple, and it can keep us all from getting sick. Hand hygiene is a win for everyone, except the germs.

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Written by the Hand Hygiene Governance Group, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2017. Last updated August 2018.


See also:

Diarrhoea and vomiting


Skin infections

Page reference: 227175

Review key: HIHYG-227175