How to Wash Your Hands

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When you're preparing food, a proper handwashing routine is essential for preventing cross-contamination and limiting the spread of bacteria that cause food poisoning.

What's happening when you wash your hands? You're not killing the bacteria on your hands. You're just rinsing them off. Likewise, ordinary soap doesn't kill bacteria; it just loosens the bacteria off your hands so they can be washed down the drain.

The Proper Way to Wash Your Hands

  1. Rinse your hands under the hottest running water you can stand — at least 100 F.
  2. Soap up your hands — preferably using soap from a soap dispenser but bar soap is OK. The key is to generate a good lather.
  3. Scrub for at least 30 seconds, making sure to soap up your wrist and lower arm areas.
  4. Since you might be digging your fingers into ground meat or kneading dough, you should also clean under your fingernails. Keep a nail brush by your hand-washing sink, and use it.
  5. Rinse thoroughly, again, for at least 30 seconds but longer if that's what it takes to fully rinse off the soap.
  6. Use a clean paper towel to turn off the faucet. Throw that towel away and use a new paper towel for the next step.
  7. Dry your hands using a clean paper towel — not a dishtowel or other cloth. Why? Dishtowels hang around the kitchen and get wiped on everything, making them the ideal vehicle for spreading bacteria from one kitchen tool or surface to another — or onto your freshly washed hands.


  • Wash your hands after using the restroom, before and after touching raw food, after sneezing or coughing, after taking out the trash or using any type of cleaning product — or in a word, frequently.
  • Don't use another body part, such as your upper arm or elbow, to shut off the faucet. You'll just contaminate your elbow that way. Use a clean paper towel, and throw it away afterward.
  • Avoid, if possible, those hot-air hand dryers. They can sometimes harbor bacteria, which are then blown onto your nice clean hands.
  • Don't go around with wet hands, either. Wet hands are more easily contaminated than dry ones.