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Fight germs and wash hands properly

This page explains how to wash your hands properly and avoid germs. If you follow these steps, you will cut your risk of catching the common cold, the flu (influenza), and other viruses.

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Most of us don’t pay attention to how we wash our hands. We usually miss spots and take shortcuts. We can do better!

Learn the right way to wash your hands. Wash them properly every time. And teach everyone in your family these steps to proper handwashing:

You come in contact with the stool or blood of a person who currently has the disease

If you aren't near a sink, wash your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

Put a blob of cleaner in your palm. Use about a half a teaspoon (3 ml).

Rub your hands together as the cleaner dries. Rub all over: between your fingers, the backs of your hands, under your fingernails.

Keep rubbing your hands until they are dry.

If you can see dirt on your hands, hand sanitizer won't work. You'll need to wash your hands at the sink, with soap.

Carry hand sanitizer with you. Use it when you can’t wash your hands in a sink.

Handwashing tips

Before you wash your hands, take off any jewellery.

When you wash with soap, use regular liquid soap. You don’t need antibacterial soap to remove dirt and germs. In fact, using antibiotics when they aren’t needed can lead to antibiotic resistance

– that's when germs get stronger and harder to kill.

Use moisturizer on your hands. Washing your hands can dry out your skin. If your skin is dry, it can develop small cracks, where germs can hide.

So put moisturizer on your hands after cleaning them.

When to wash your hands

Before and after you eat

Before, during and after you prepare food

After you use the bathroom or change diapers

After you blow your nose, sneeze or cough

Before and after taking care of someone who is sick

After touching animals, their toys, leashes, or waste (poop)

After touching something that could be dirty (garbage can, dirty rags, etc.)

Before and after you clean a wound, give medicine or insert contact lenses

Whenever your hands look dirty

Handwashing when someone at home is sick

When someone in your home is sick, it's extra important to wash your hands properly. Make sure everyone in the home washes their hands properly and often. Give the sick person her own hand towel to dry her hands; no one else should use her towel. Put out clean hand towels every day: one for the sick person, another for the healthy people. Or use disposable hand towels.

Sneezing and coughing can spread colds, flu, and many other viruses. These viruses live in the saliva and mucus in your nose and throat. When you sneeze and cough, you spray little droplets of saliva and mucus into the air. Other people can breathe in the droplets and get sick. Or the droplets can land on tables, keyboards, books, and other things. When someone touches these things, then touches their face or eyes, they can catch the virus and get sick.

Cough and sneeze into tissues, throw the tissues away, and wash your hands.

If you don't have a tissue, turn away from people and cough into your shoulder or your sleeve.

Do not cover your coughs and sneezes with your hands

Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

Clean your home and work spaces regularly. "Regular" cleaners are best for most homes and workplaces. Do not use antibacterial cleaners. They are not necessary.

Use a regular household disinfectant to wash common surfaces every day. Make sure you wash:

Counters, taps, and sinks in your bathroom and kitchen

Bedside tables

Children's toys

Computer keyboards

Desks and tabletops

Wipe surfaces with paper towels that can be thrown away or cloth towels that can be washed afterwards. After you've cleaned children's toys, rinse the toys with clean water.

If you have a long-term lung disease like asthma or COPD, you are more likely to catch a cold or the flu. Cold and flu can make your COPD or asthma symptoms much worse. That’s why it’s best to stay away from people who are sick.

If you have a contagious sickness like the flu or a cold, stay away from other people, especially:

Elderly people

Pregnant women

Babies and children

People who are frail or who have a chronic (long-term) disease

People who have a lung disease like asthma or COPD