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Mother and son using wash hand sanitizer.

Washing your hands is the best way to prevent the spread of illnesses, such as the common cold and flu. Handwashing also helps reduce the spread of the highly publicized coronavirus (COVID-19).

When Should I Wash My Hands?

Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds helps reduce germs on your hands. Wash your hands at the following times:

  • before eating and cooking
  • after using the bathroom
  • after blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing
  • after handling soiled diapers or trash
  • after caring for a sick individual

What if I Don’t Have Access to Soap and Water?

If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Using hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol is an effective way to kill germs. It will reduce your chances of getting sick and spreading germs to others. Using a non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer or those with less than 60 percent alcohol may not kill all the germs lurking on your hands.

What Is the Proper Way to Use Hand Sanitizers?

  • Read the label, if available, to find the recommended amount to use, such as two sprays. The label will also tell you how to use the product safely.
  • Apply the hand sanitizer to the palm of your hands.
  • Rub hands together covering all parts of the hands and fingers until dry. Add more if needed.
  • Let hands air dry rather than wiping them with a napkin or paper towel.

What about Homemade Hand Sanitizer?

You can find recipes to make your own hand sanitizer. These recipes, however, usually call for ingredients such as 99 percent rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or ethanol (ethyl alcohol or alcohol). The Food and Drug Administration warns against using these products until more research is done on their effectiveness. In the meantime, washing your hands often is a great way to reduce the spread of germs. Visit the CDC to learn more about proper handwashing.

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