Handwashing 101

Nov 12, 2021 | Olivia White | @oliviawhite | Comments (4)

According to the CDC, handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from becoming ill. We have outlined when and how to wash your hands to help keep you healthy!

Germs accumulate on your hands throughout the day as you come into contact with food, other people, and various objects. As those same hands rub your eyes, itch your nose, or brush your lips throughout the day, you run the risk of passing those germs into your body. While it's impossible to keep your hands completely germ-free, washing your hands can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes, keeping illness at bay.

Hand washing for transplant patients 

Hand washing is important for anyone, but especially for those with medical conditions, including people on transplant waiting lists and recent transplant recipients.

Without immunosuppressant (or anti-rejection) drugs, your body would treat your life-saving organ like a germ and attack it after your transplant. These medicines block your body’s natural defenses, which allow your new organ to thrive. Unfortunately, they can also block your body’s natural defenses against germs, making it all the more important for you to be proactive against germs.

When should I wash?

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage
  • After shaking hands with individuals
  • After returning home from public places

Is there a right way to wash? 

Follow these 5 steps from the CDC to wash your hands the right way.

  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 soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, or as long as it takes you to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end, twice.
  4. Rinse well under clean running water.
  5. Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer. If possible, use a towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet.

Should you use warm or cold water?

Warm water is preferable to cold, and most people find it a more comfortable temperature to use. Cold water doesn't remove germs and oils as well as warm water. Oils can hold bacteria and germs, so it's important to remove them as much as possible.

How effective is hand sanitizer?

Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available to you, an alternative is alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer doesn't eliminate all types of germs and may not be as effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. They might also not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals.

How to use Hand Sanitizer

  • Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand, each label will have the correct amount.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the gel all over the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.

Is antibacterial soap better?

Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than regular soap. Using antibacterial soap might even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents, making it harder to kill these germs in the future. If possible, use regular soap.

Do you have good habits when it comes to hand washing? Did they change when you became a transplant patient?

For more information on handwashing, we recommend visiting the CDC’s handwashing website.



Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Transplant blog.

Question. A woman I know adds hand sanitizer to the bottle of hand soap and it makes it little runny and I don't like to use it. I have started using a bottle I keep to use. Why do that as I don't see the purpose. Soap and water is the best cleanser.


I carry a natural, mild, but effective hand sanitizer with me for when I’m out and can’t always get to a restroom. I always have ones that are individually wrapped in all of my coats and a small bottle in my bags.

In reply to @carolfkaley "Good info" + (show)

Welcome Carol. I see this is your first post. What brings you to Mayo Clinic Connect?

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