Hand Hygiene In Healthcare Settings

Pair of hands lathering soap over a steel sink

What is hand hygiene?

Hand hygiene refers to the use of hand washing with soap and water or alcohol hand sanitizer (60% alcohol or greater) in order to reduce infection rates, reduce transmission of antimicrobial resistant organisms and stop outbreaks of communicable disease.

Why is hand hygiene important?

  • Clean hands are the single most important factor to prevent the spread of infections in healthcare settings.
  • Hand hygiene reduces the incidence of healthcare-associated infections.
  • Hand hygiene protects healthcare workers from acquiring diseases from their patients.
  • The use of gloves does not eliminate the need for hand hygiene; hand contamination can occur through microscopic breaks in gloves.

When should I use hand hygiene?

  • When starting work and before leaving work.
  • After sneezing, coughing or nose-blowing.
  • When entering or leaving exam/treatment rooms or moving away from patient “zone.”
  • Between all patient contacts.
  • Between clean and dirty steps of a procedure to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Just prior to setting up supplies for a procedures.
  • Before putting gloves on and after removing gloves.
  • After using the restroom (must wash with soap and water).
  • When hands are soiled or feel dirty (must wash with soap and water).
  • After being exposed to/cleaning up stool (must wash with soap and water).

How do I wash my hands with soap and water?

  • Wet hands with warm running water.
  • Apply soap.
  • Rub hands together for 15 to 20 seconds. Cover all surfaces of the hands and fingers, including fingernails, thumbs and wrists.
  • Rinse hands thoroughly.
  • Dry hands with a clean paper towel or air dryer.
  • Use paper towel to turn off water faucet, if possible.
  • Dispose of paper towel in a waste receptacle.

How do I use 60% or greater alcohol-based hand sanitizer?

  • Place a quarter-sized amount of the sanitizer in palm of hand.
  • Rub palms together. Use enough sanitizer to saturate all surfaces of your hands and wrists, until your hands are dry.


Healthcare personnel who have direct contact with patients should:

  • Minimize the wearing of hand and wrist jewelry.
  • Avoid wearing artificial nails or nail enhancements. Keep natural nails less than one quarter of an inch long.
  • Hand sanitizer does not kill all viruses or bacteria. It does not kill norviruses or difficile.