5 hand washing steps you should be following

Here's how to wash your hands properly, once and for all

Hand washing steps: How to wash your hands properly
(Image credit: Burst on Pexels)

To ensure your hands are properly clean, there are certain hand washing steps you need to be following. Read on for a definitive guide to how to wash your hands properly.

Right now there's an international hand sanitizer gel shortage. But that's not the end of the world: experts at the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NHS agree that washing your hands with soap and water is actually a better way to get rid of germs anyway. (If you find it's drying your skin out, take a look at our guide to the best hand creams.)

The caveat here is that you have to wash your hands properly – a quick rinse and a cursory squirt of soap isn't going to cut it. There are a series of hand washing steps you need to follow to remove dirt, grease and microbes thoroughly (scroll down for a demo video). Here's the short version.

1. Wet your hands

Do this with clean running water. While it might feel nicer to use warm water, scientifically cold seems to be just as effective in getting your hands clean. Turn the tap off after you've done this to avoid wasting water. 

2. Apply soap and work into a lather

This can be either liquid soap or bar soap. Work the lather into the backs of your hands, between your fingers and underneath your nails.

3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds

Scrub your soapy hands to get all the dirt and germs off – there are certain motions you can do here (explained more thoroughly below). This stage should last at least 20 seconds – which is as long as it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice. 

4. Rinse your hands

Get all the soap off by rinsing your hands thoroughly using clean running water (hot or cold). 

5. Dry your hands

Dry using a clean towel or hand drier. Our guide to the best bath towels can help you out here.

Hand washing steps: The long version

During the 20 seconds you're 'scrubbing your hands', there are certain hand washing steps to follow to make sure you're getting your entire hands clean. Scroll down to watch the NHS demonstration video, or read on for a written explanation. 

1. Rub hands together, palm to palm

Hand washing steps

(Image credit: Future)

2. Rub hands together, palm to back of hand

Hand washing steps

(Image credit: Future)

Place one hand on top of the other, palm to back of hand, and rub together, using the fingers of one hand to clean between the fingers of the other. Swap hands and repeat.

3. Rub backs of fingers into palms

Hand washing steps

(Image credit: Future)

Use a sideways twisting motion to clean.

4. Grip and rub your thumb

Hand washing steps

(Image credit: Future)

Use one hand to grip your opposite thumb, then twist to clean. Repeat for both hands.

5. Rub tips of fingers into opposite palm

Hand washing steps

(Image credit: Future)

Repeat this step for both hands.

Here's the full sequence in action. It should take you about as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. 

References: CDC and NHS guidelines.

Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is a lifestyle journalist specialising in sleep and wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to certified experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there. She's currently Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide and TechRadar, and prior to that ran the Outdoors and Wellness channels on T3 (now covered by Matt Kollat and Beth Girdler-Maslen respectively).