Are You Washing Your Hands the Right Way?

“Remember to wash your hands!” Everywhere you go, teachers, parents, and friends always talk about how important it is to wash your hands. But what exactly does handwashing do? And why do we have to do it so many times? These tips about handwashing for kids will help answer your questions about handwashing once and for all!

kids having fun washing hands and why it's important

Handwashing for kids: Why it’s so important to wash your hands

Did you know that handwashing is one of the most important ways to stay healthy? It’s true! Washing your hands regularly can help keep you from getting sick and feeling terrible.

Plus, when your hands are nice and clean, this can prevent friends and family from getting sick.

Curious why?

The simple act of washing our hands can cut down the number of sicknesses going around. That’s because germs can easily pass from one person to another by touching, talking, and doing things we do all the time.

How germs spread

Different germs spread in different ways.

If someone has sneezed into their hands, certain germs from the boogers leave the nose and get on the hands. If they touch a doorknob, the germs get on the doorknob. The next person who touches that door knob can easily pick up those germs.

Other types of germs can spread from the bathroom onto food.

For example, if someone wipes their bottom and leaves the bathroom without washing their hands, poop germs can get on their hands. If they touch their friend’s food, those tiny invisible poop germs join the meal…and their friend can eat the germs.


Poop germs can also spread when someone changes a diaper and forgets to wash their hands with soap and water.

Whether we like it or not, these are true stories of how germs spread!

child flushing toilet and touching germs

Helpful handwashing by the numbers

How much of a difference can you make? Let’s look at a couple of common situations.

Want to avoid a breathing infection? Washing hands with soap can help. If a sick person is near 5 kids, at least 1 might be protected from handwashing.

What about diarrhea? Washing hands with soap is even better at keeping those germs away. If a person with contagious diarrhea hangs out with 3 other kids, at least 1 of those kids can avoid getting sick just by handwashing.

Avoid antibiotics

handwashing can prevent germs and antibiotics

If we all wash our hands, less germs will get people sick.

If less people are sick, then less people will need medicine like antibiotics.

Of course, antibiotics are important when we truly need them.

But if antibiotics are given too often, over time, the medicine can get less effective at doing its job.

That’s why simple acts like cleaning our hands can make a big difference.

Wash away food crumbs

After you cook or eat, handwashing with soap is the best way to eliminate food particles lingering on your hands. If you are near someone with a food allergy, handwashing can keep them safe.

Soap versus hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer versus hand washing with soap - which is better?

Sanitizer bottles are everywhere these days, and they can be super convenient. Hand sanitizers with more than 70% alcohol are pretty good at removing most germs. On the go, a little bottle of hand sanitizer can easily fit in your backpack, lunchbox, or pocket.

But if you can choose between soap or sanitizer, always pick soap! Handwashing with soap is the best way to wash off anything from your hands. This simple act can get rid of all types of bacteria and viruses.

When should kids wash their hands?

Make it a habit to wash your hands…

  • Before cooking and eating. Germs can enter our bodies through our eyes, nose, and mouth! Germs can easily get into food or drinks when people make or eat them.
  • After cooking and eating. For the same reasons, you will want to wash after you cook or eat, especially if you’re around people with food allergies.
  • After using the bathroom. Feces (yup, poop) from people and animals are a major source of germs for many illnesses. These invisible germs get onto hands after using the toilet and changing diapers.
  • After being around someone sick. Germs pass very easily between people through air, food, and objects you touch.
  • When coming home. After being out and about, lots of germs can follow you home. So, wash your hands right away when you walk into the house.

How long should kids wash their hands?

washing hands with soap and water

Now that we know why handwashing is important, how do we wash our hands properly?

  1. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Rub your hands together to make the soap bubbly and foamy.
  3. Spread the soap all around your hands up to your wrists.
  4. Gently scrub, scrub, scrub! Get in between your fingers, under your nails, and along your fingertips.

To make sure you wash your hands long enough, you can count aloud or in your head. Another great method is to sing Happy Birthday twice!

After washing your hands or using sanitizer

Lotion or petroleum jelly can keep your skin soft and protected. After you wash and dry your hands, it’s the perfect time to rub some lotion onto your skin.

Why is lotion so helpful? Washing your hands or using too much hand sanitizer can be harsh on the skin.

When the healthy oils on your skin are washed away, your skin can get itchy and uncomfortable. Sometimes, the skin might even crack from being too dry. Plus, if your skin is cracked, germs can sneak into the skin more easily and cause an infection.

All healthy habits take practice and time, so come back and review these tips step by step. Together, we can prevent sick days for everyone!

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More ways to keep your body healthy

Updated on November 28, 2023 by Betty Choi, MD

Updated on November 28, 2023 by Betty Choi, MD