Germs are microscopic bugs that can make you sick. Even though we can't see germs with the naked eye, we know that they spread disease and can be found everywhere! Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can hitch a ride on hands and surfaces and be passed easily from one person to another. Good personal hygiene and cleaning practices can prevent the spread of diseases such as:

  • Diarrheal diseases (salmonella, norovirus, shigella, giardia)
  • Respiratory ailments (common cold, influenza, pertussis)
  • Skin conditions (ringworm, impetigo, MRSA)
  • Other common illnesses (pinkeye, pinworms)

The best way to reduce the spread of germs is by using good handwashing practices and washing hands often.

When to Wash Your Hands

There are many times throughout the day when you should wash your hands:

  • After caring for a sick person
  • After changing diapers
  • After cleaning or using chemicals
  • After contact with body fluids
  • After coughing, sneezing, or wiping your nose or a child's nose
  • After handling garbage or trash
  • After touching animals or cleaning their cages
  • After touching eyes, nose, mouth, or other body parts
  • After using the restroom or helping a child use the toilet
  • Before and after taking medication or giving medication to a child
  • Before eating
  • Before you prepare food and after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs
  • Whenever your hands are dirty

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

The best thing to use for washing your hands is soap and water. Antibacterial soaps are not necessary. Instant hand sanitizers will kill germs on your hands, but will not remove dirt or chemicals, and should not be used when hands are visibly dirty. There are six steps to proper handwashing:

  1. Wet your hands
  2. Apply soap
  3. Scrub hands for 20 seconds, making sure to get the palms, backs, and in between fingers
  4. Rinse hands under running water
  5. Dry hands
  6. Use a paper towel to turn off the water to prevent germs from getting back on your clean hands

Feel free to print and post our Be a Germ Fighter poster (PDF) which reviews these steps.

Teach children to wash

By teaching children how to wash their hands, they are learning a healthy habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Start young. Hold babies up to the sink and wash their hands with yours. They can begin connecting the act of washing their hands with toileting when you was their hands in the sink after each diaper change. Ideas for teaching children about handwashing include:

  • Blow bubbles and then talk about how making plenty of bubbles is important to getting germs off of hands. Challenge them to make as many bubbles as they can.
  • Have children sing while washing to help them learn to wash long enough. Twice through the Happy Birthday song works well.
  • Read a book about germs.
  • Use Vaseline or cooking oil and a little bit of glitter or fine spice on their hands and teach them what it takes to get the "germs" off - soap, warm water, and scrubbing