Hand Hygiene and Preventing Infection

This information explains how to clean your hands correctly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Why is hand hygiene so important?

When germs get into your body, they can cause an infection. All patients are at risk for infection while in the hospital. Hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of germs and infections. It only takes 15 seconds of washing your hands or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer such as Purell® to kill the germs that cause infections. You can take action by cleaning your own hands and asking your visitors to clean their hands.

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When should I clean my hands with soap and water?

  • After using the toilet, urinal, or bedside commode
  • If your hands look dirty
  • Before you eat or prepare food
  • If you have an infection with the germ Clostridium difficile (C. Diff) or norovirus
  • After vomiting or coughing up sputum (phlegm)
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What is the correct way to clean my hands with soap and water?

  1. Wet your hands with warm water. Use liquid soap, if possible. Apply a nickel- or quarter-sized amount of soap to your hands.
  2. Rub your hands together until a lather forms. Rub the lather over the top of your hands, in between your fingers, and in the area around and under your fingernails.
  3. Continue rubbing your hands for 15 to 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under warm running water.
  5. Dry your hands with a paper towel.
  6. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open the bathroom door, if needed.
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When should I clean my hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer?

  • If soap and water are not available
  • When you leave your hospital room and when you come back
  • Before eating (if you are confined to your bed, you can use an individually packaged hand wipe)
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What is the correct way to clean my hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer?

  1. Put a nickel- or quarter-size amount of sanitizer in the palm of your hand.
  2. Rub your hands together, and then rub the sanitizer over the top of your hands, in between your fingers, and in the area around and under your fingernails.
  3. Continue rubbing until your hands are dry. If enough sanitizer was used to kill germs, it should take at least 15 seconds of rubbing before your hands feel dry. Do not rinse your hands with water or dry them with a towel.
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Where can I get more information about hand hygiene?

If you have any questions, talk with your doctor or nurse. You can also visit the following website for more information:

World Health Organization (WHO)

If you think you may have an infection, tell your doctor or nurse. Signs and symptoms of infection may include:

  • Fever or low temperature below 96.8° F (36° C)
  • New or worsening chills or sweating
  • New or worsening redness around a wound
  • New or increased drainage from a wound
  • New or worsening shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • A heartbeat that is faster than usual
  • New or worsening cough
  • New or worsening pain
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