Wash Your Hands—Keep Germs Away

Reviewed 3/21/2024

Washing your hands throughout the day, and encouraging your kids to do the same, can help stop the spread of germs and prevent illnesses and infections, like colds, the flu and COVID-19.

Just because you can’t see germs doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

“Washing your hands, and encouraging your kids to do the same, can help stop the spread of germs,” said Andi Shane, MD, MPH, System Medical Director of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “No matter your child’s age, you can help them with good hand hygiene.”

Hand hygiene has been proven to help prevent COVID-19, colds, the flu, sore throats, pinkeye and many more illnesses and infections. And viruses, such as colds and the flu, are most often transmitted on the hands when you wipe a runny nose, cover your mouth during a cough, or scratch itchy, watery eyes.

“Germs can live in the most unexpected places,” Dr. Shane said. “But some of the most common places where germs lurk include in public restrooms, on restaurant menus, on doorknobs, on your kids’ toys, in the kitchen sink, on the computer keyboard, on your smartphone and even on your toothbrush.”

Boy getting his temperature checked

It’s important to know when your hands and your child’s hands should be washed. The recommendations below will help make sure you’re preventing the spread of germs as best as you can.

Wash hands before:

  • Eating, drinking or feeding your child.
  • Treating a cut or scrape.
  • Caring for someone who is sick.
  • Giving medicines.
  • Entering a hospital room or exam room.

Wash hands after:

  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing or after wiping your child’s nose.
  • Going to the bathroom.
  • Touching the garbage.
  • Playing with or touching pets.
  • Coming home from a public place.
  • Handling uncooked foods.
  • Helping your child in the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Leaving a hospital room or doctor’s office.

It’s very important for parents to lead by example. Wash your hands in front of your children, and show them how easy it can be.

Take the following steps to keep your hands germ-free:

  1. Wet your hands with warm running water.
  2. Lather your hands with soap until you get lots of bubbles.
  3. Wash both hands entirely—including each finger and thumb, under the fingernails, the backs of the hands, inside the palms and around the wrists—for at least 20 seconds. Singing “Happy Birthday” takes about 20 seconds, so wash your hands for that long.
  4. Rinse hands well under running water, rubbing your hands together to remove all soap, dirt and germs.
  5. Dry hands with a paper towel that absorbs water instead of a cloth towel or jet air dryer. In a public restroom, use a dry paper towel to turn off the faucet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible, but if soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Hand sanitizer can help you and your child avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

When using hand sanitizer, check the label first for the suggested amount to use and apply the product to the palm of one hand. Rub it all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.

Remember to keep an eye on children when they are using alcohol-based hand sanitizers to make sure that they are using the product safely.

Whether you have access to a sink or just hand sanitizer, practicing hand hygiene is very important throughout the day. It will help protect you and your children on a daily basis from illnesses and infections.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.