Authors as Published

Renee R. Boyer, Extension Specialist, Food Safety, Virginia Tech*


Why Wash Hands?

Failure to adequately wash hands is a major cause of infectious diseases. Individuals who practice poor personal hygiene while preparing food may spread diseases such as hepatitis A, salmonellosis, and shigellosis. Studies indicate that onethird (33%) of people do not wash their hands after using the restroom.

When To Wash Hands?

Wash hands often because disease-causing germs can easily be transferred to food, surfaces, and people.

Germs cannot be seen with the naked eye. Warmth and moisture (perspiration) on skin surfaces allow germs to quickly grow into millions.



Hands should be washed:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food

  • Before eating food

  • After using the restroom

  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose

  • After changing diapers

  • After handling money

  • After handling trash or taking out garbage

  • After handling (petting) pets or other animals

  • After work or play

  • Whenever hands come in contact with body fluids (i.e. runny nose, watery eyes, saliva)

  • More frequently when someone in the home is sick

  • When hands are dirty

How To Wash Hands?

Hands should be washed vigorously by scrubbing with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Germs can hide underneath fingernails. Thus, rub tips of fingers along the soapy palm of the alternate hand or use a fingernail brush. Rinse hands well and completely dry with a paper towel or air-dryer. Turn the faucet handle off with a paper towel to avoid recontamination. If you will be preparing food, try not to touch potentially contaminated surfaces after washing your hands. Proper handwashing steps are listed on the other side of the page.


*Originally written by Tim Roberts, Extension Specialist, Food Safety, Virginia Tech

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

May 1, 2009