Hand Washing 101 For Healthcare Providers

Written by Heather Siler

The Centers for Disease Control provides handwashing guidelines for healthcare providers. While washing your hands may seem second nature, when dealing with patient care, you must correctly wash your hands to protect the patient and yourself against unwanted germs.

Hand hygiene refers to cleaning your hands by the following methods: regular soap and water, antiseptic hand wash, antiseptic hand rubbing with alcohol-based sanitizer, or surgical hand antisepsis. Even though you will probably be wearing gloves, it’s imperative to thoroughly clean your hands before and after donning gloves to reduce the spread of potentially harmful germs between yourself and the patient.

There are two approved methods for hand hygiene which include washing with soap and water or rubbing with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Washing with a non-antibacterial soap is the least effective method, and alcohol-based sanitizers are the most effective. Washing with antiseptic soap lies in the middle. Generally speaking, if hands are visibly dirty, soap and water are recommended. However, if hands aren’t visibly soiled, alcohol-based sanitizers are in order.

Cleaning the hands should be done in the following instances:

  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after any contact with the patient’s intact skin
  • After contact with blood, body fluids, mucous membranes, or open wounds
  • After contact with any medical equipment surrounding the patient
  • Before and after removal of gloves
  • Before and after using the restroom

The CDC technique for washing with soap and water:

  • Wet hands with room temperature water (continued exposure to hot water can dry the skin)
  • Apply the manufacturer recommended amount of soap to the hands
  • Rub hands vigorously together for 15 seconds while covering all surfaces of each hand
  • Rinse thoroughly with water
  • Use a disposable towel to dry the hands and use the same towel to turn off the faucet

When using an alcohol-based sanitizer, the CDC recommends applying the amount as directed by the manufacturer onto the hands covering all surfaces and rubbing at least 20 seconds or until the hands feel dry.

As a healthcare professional, you wash your hands and apply sanitizers many times per day. Keeping your hands in good shape is the best defense against spreading germs. Lotions and creams are permissible, and ones approved for use with sanitizing methods will protect your skin and not interfere with the sanitation process.