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Hand Hygiene

A Guide to Clean Hands in Health Care Facilities

​​​​Why do we need to clean our hands?100CleanHands.png

Cleaning our hands (also known as hand hygiene) is one of the best ways we can prevent germs from spreading.

The main way germs spread is through our hands. We can pick up germs almost everywhere, including telephones, doorknobs, and railings. We can spread these germs through a health care facility without even realizing it.

Our hands may look clean, but we can’t see the germs that cause infections. When we forget to clean our hands, or don’t clean them properly, we can spread germs to other people. We can also spread them to ourselves by touching our eyes, mouth, nose, or cuts on our bodies.

It’s important to encourage your family members, visitors, and health care team to clean their hands whenever they come to visit you or help you with your care needs. We can all do our part to prevent germs from spreading and causing infections in our health care facilities.​​

When do we need to clean our hands?

  • Before preparing and eating food.
  • Before touching our eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • After using the bathroom, blowing our nose, or coughing or sneezing on our hands.
  • Before we have contact with patients or residents, or enter their rooms.
  • After any contact with a patient or resident or their environment.

Should I use hand sanitizer or soap and water?

You can use hand sanitizers (alcohol-based hand rub) or soap and water to clean your hands.

Hand sanitizers are best to use when:

  • your hands don’t look or feel dirty but should be cleaned
  • you enter or leave the patient or resident room, unit, and facility​microsan.png

To clean your hands with hand sanitizer:

  1. make sure your hands are dry
  2. put enough hand sanitizer on your hand to cover your palm
  3. rub it all over your hands (e.g., on wrists, palms, ​backs of hands, and between fingers)
  4. keep rubbing until all the hand sanitizer dries
    ​(about ​15 seconds)

Soap and water is best to use:

  • when your hands look or feel dirty
  • before eating or preparing food
  • after using the bathroom

soapyhands.jpgTo clean your hands with soap and water:

  1. wet your hands with warm running water
  2. put liquid or foam soap on your hands
  3. lather all parts of your hands (e.g., between fingers, wrists, palms, and backs of hands) for 15 to 30 seconds
  4. rinse your hands well with running water
  5. pat your hands dry with paper towel
  6. use paper towel to turn off the water and open the door
  7. throw the paper towel in the garbage

When does my health care team need to clean their hands?

Y​our health care team follows the 4 Moments for Hand Hygiene when they care for you.

  1. Before contact with a patient or patient’s environment. Your health care team should clean their hands before touching you or anything around you such as your clothes or any of your belongings.
  2. Before a clean or aseptic procedure. Your health care team should clean their hands before putting on gloves and before beginning a procedure such as starting your IV, changing your dressing, caring for your catheter, or preparing your medicine.
  3. After body fluid exposure risk. Your health care team should clean their hands after they contact your blood or body fluids. This includes after they take off gloves used for any procedure where they may have been exposed to your body fluids such as changing your dressing or taking your blood sample.
  4. After contact with a patient or patient’s environment. Your health care team should perform hand hygiene after they have touched you or anything around you and are leaving you or your area to move to their next task.

If you didn’t see your health care team clean their hands and you’re worried, feel free to ask “I didn’t see you clean your hands, would you mind cleaning them?” Your health care team welcomes your questions.

By keeping our hands clean, we can all create a safer environment.

Current as of: February 3, 2017

Author: Infection Prevention & Control Hand Hygiene Program, Alberta Health Services