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Handwashing for parents and children

Why is handwashing so important?

Germs are always collecting on your hands—when you open doors, wipe children’s faces, play with toys and change diapers. You can't avoid germs, but you can reduce the chance of passing them to others by washing your hands often.

Washing your hands and your children’s hands is the best way to stop the spread of germs. Teach your children to cover their nose and mouth with tissues when they sneeze or cough, or to cough into their upper sleeve or elbow.

When should parents wash their hands?

Wash your hands before:

  • preparing or eating food.
  • feeding your baby or child (including breastfeeding).
  • giving medication to your child.

Wash your hands after:

  • preparing food.
  • changing a diaper.
  • helping a child to use a toilet.
  • using a toilet yourself.
  • wiping or blowing your own or your child’s nose.
  • taking care of a sick child.
  • handling pets or animals or cleaning their cages or litter boxes.
  • cleaning around the house.

When should children wash their hands?

It’s important to help young children to wash their hands to make sure it is done well.

Children should wash their hands before:

  • Eating or handling food.
  • Water play.

Children should wash their hands after:

  • Using the toilet.
  • Playing outdoors or in sand.
  • Playing with pets or animals.
  • Sneezing or coughing into their hands or blowing noses.

Four steps to proper handwashing

  • Wet your hands under running water.
  • Scrub your hands well with soap. Remember to scrub between your fingers, to wash both the front and back of your hands, and to clean under your finger nails.
  • Rinse your hands under running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel.

When water and soap are not available, use pre-moistened hand wipes or alcohol-based hand rinses. Keep hand rinses out of the reach of children because they may be harmful if swallowed.

How should I wash my baby's hands?

  • Wash your baby’s hands with soap and a warm, wet, fresh towel (either paper or cloth).
  • Rinse the baby’s hands with another fresh, warm, wet towel.
  • Dry the hands well.

Is there anything else I should know about handwashing?

  • Don’t use a single damp cloth to wash a group of children's hands. Each child should get a clean cloth.
  • Don’t use a standing basin of water (such as dirty dish water) to rinse hands.
  • Don't use sponges or non-disposable cleaning cloths unless you change them daily and clean them using detergent. Germs thrive on moist surfaces.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last Updated: December 2012