It's National Handwashing Awareness Week. Clean hands save lives.

December 1, 2021 Swedish Health Team




In this article: 

  • December 1 through 7 is National Handwashing Awareness Week.

  • Scientific studies show that you need to scrub for 20 seconds to remove harmful germs and chemicals from your hands.

  • Proper handwashing hygiene is one of the best ways to keep you and your family from getting sick.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that good hand hygiene is an important weapon in defending ourselves and others against serious illness. And during National Handwashing Awareness Week, which is December 1 through 7, it's a good time to reinforce the importance of handwashing, why it matters and how to do it properly.     

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many diseases are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If soap and water aren't available, says the CDC, using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid spreading germs to others. And in case you're wondering, yes, there's plenty of evidence to support the importance of proper handwashing and what we know about why and how it works! 

How harmful germs spread

Harmful germs can spread from other people or surfaces when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; prepare or eat foods or drinks with unwashed hands; touch contaminated surfaces; or blow your nose, cough or sneeze into your hands and then touch other people or common objects. If you have to sneeze, and don't have a tissue, sneeze into the the crook of your elbow, to minimize contaminating your hands. (Here's a helpful demonstration from our Sesame Street friends Elmo and Rosita!) Be sure to use hand sanitizer immediately and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you can get to soap and water. 

Is there a right way to wash our hands? 

Yes! The CDC recommends the following five steps a proper handwashing hygiene:

  • Wet: Use clean, running water (warm or cold), then turn off the water, and apply soap.
  • Lather: Rub hands together to spread around soap; don’t miss backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails.
  • Scrub: For 20 seconds or more. You can hum “Happy Birthday” twice, or the ABC song once, to help measure time.
  • Rinse: Under clean, running water.
  • Dry: Use a clean towel (not the damp one used to wipe down your kitchen counters!) or simply air dry.

But I'm not near a running water and don't have soap 

The CDC recommends using hand sanitizer if soap and water aren't readily available. Be sure your sanitizer is at least 60% alcohol; you can tell by reading the label. Just keep in mind that sanitizers don't get rid of all types of germs; may not be as effective on visibly dirty or greasy hands; and may not remove harmful chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals. Apply the amount instructed on the label onto one palm, rub hands together, then rub thoroughly over both hands and all fingers until dry. Be sure to keep hand sanitizers out of reach of young children because they can be poisonous if ingested. 

When should we wash our hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food.
  • Before and after eating food.
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound.
  • 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.

Why should we wash our hands?

  • Washing hands prevents illnesses and spread of infections to others.
  • Not washing hands harms children around the world; about 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die every year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia.
  • Handwashing helps battle the rise in antibiotic resistant infections, which require extended hospital stays, and costly, toxic alternative treatments.  

Find a doctor

Swedish understands that even the best handwashers sometimes get sick! Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. You can visit your primary care doctor or use Swedish ExpressCare Virtual, which connects you face-to-face with a practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.

Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.

Additional resources

Handwashing - Clean Hands Save Lives from the CDC

Five essential guidelines to control infection 

Safety isn’t just our policy, it’s our culture 

Keep kids healthy, safe with recommended vaccines 


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.



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