Respiratory viruses like coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread when mucus or droplets containing the virus get into your body through your eyes, nose or throat. Most often, this happens through your hands. Hands are also one of the most common ways that the virus spreads from one person to the next.
During a global pandemic, one of the cheapest, easiest, and most important ways to prevent the spread of a virus is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to wash your hands the right way:
To eliminate all traces of the virus on your hands, a quick scrub and a rinse won’t cut it. Below is a step-by-step process for effective handwashing.
You should wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds. An easy way to time it is by singing the full happy birthday song, twice.
The same goes for hand sanitizer: use a sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and rub it into your hands for at least 20 seconds to ensure full coverage.
In the context of COVID-19 prevention, you should make sure to wash your hands at the following times:
In general, you should always wash your hands at the following times:
You can help children wash their hands by making handwashing easier for them, for instance, by setting up a stool so they can reach water and soap by themselves. You can make it fun for them by singing their favorite songs while you help them rub their hands.
No, you can use any temperature of water to wash your hands. Cold water and warm water are equally effective at killing germs and viruses – as long as you use soap!
Germs spread more easily from wet skin than from dry skin, so drying your hands completely is an important step. Paper towels or clean cloths are the most effective way to remove germs without spreading them to other surfaces.
In general, both handwashing with soap and water and hand sanitizer, when practiced/used correctly, are highly effective at killing most germs and pathogens. Hand sanitizer is often more convenient when you are outside of the home, but can be expensive or difficult to find in emergency contexts. Also, alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills the coronavirus, but it does not kill all kinds of bacteria and viruses. For example, it is relatively ineffective against the norovirus and rotavirus.
Using chlorinated water or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol are the best second options if you do not have soap and running water. In cases where these are not available, using soapy water or ash may help remove bacteria, though not as effectively. If these methods are used, it is important to wash your hands as soon as possible when you do have access to handwashing facilities, and avoid contact with people and surfaces in the meantime.
For all of UNICEF’s guidance on COVID-19, click here.