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How to wash your hands

Washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and others from illnesses such as food poisoning and viruses such as flu and coronavirus (COVID-19).

Video: How to wash your hands

Watch this video to find out the best way to wash your hands.

Media last reviewed: 15 March 2023
Media review due: 15 March 2026

It's a good idea to remove jewellery (if possible) before washing your hands.

You should wash your hands for the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice (around 40 seconds in total):

Hand turning the tap on in a sink
1. Wet your hands with water.
Hand applying soap from a soap dispenser over the sink
2. Apply enough soap to cover your hands.
Rubbing hands together over the sink to cover hands with soap
3. Rub your hands together.
Rubbing the back of one hand with the other, cleaning between the fingers
4. Use one hand to rub the back of the other hand and clean in between the fingers. Do the same with the other hand.
Palms of both hands facing each other and cleaning between the fingers
5. Rub your hands together and clean in between your fingers.
Fingers of both hands gripping each other to clean fingertips
6. Grip the fingers of each hand together with the backs of your fingers against the palms of your other hand. Rub your fingertips together and rub the back of your fingers against your palms.
Left hand gripping right thumb over the sink
7. Rub one thumb using your other hand. Do the same with the other thumb.
Fingers of the right hand cleaning the left palm over the sink
8. Rub the tips of your fingers on the palm of your other hand. Do the same with other hand.
Rinsing both hands under the tap
9. Rinse your hands with water.
Drying both hands with a disposable towel
10. Dry your hands completely with a disposable towel.
Turning off the tap using a disposable towel to avoid touching the tap with the hand
11. Use the disposable towel to turn off the tap.

If you do not have immediate access to soap and water then use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if available.

When should you wash your hands?

You should wash your hands:

  • after using the toilet or changing a nappy
  • before and after handling raw foods like meat and vegetables
  • before eating or handling food
  • after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • before and after treating a cut or wound
  • after touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages

Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria to stop them spreading to other people and objects, which can spread illnesses such as food poisoning, flu or diarrhoea.

It can help stop people picking up infections and spreading them to others.

It can also help stop spreading infections when you're visiting someone in hospital or another healthcare setting.

Page last reviewed: 27 January 2023
Next review due: 27 January 2026