Good handwashing practices: Protect yourself from coronavirus infection

Excerpt: Washing your hands properly and often helps protect you against coronavirus disease and prevents the spread of infection. Wash your hands frequently, especially after being in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Washing your hands correctly includes using clear running water, lathering and scrubbing your hands all over for at least 20 seconds, including between fingers and under nails, rinsing hands well and drying them safely.

Washing your hands properly and frequently is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself against novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection to other people,* advises the Government of Canada. Good handwashing practices also reduce your risk of developing a cold, the flu, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, which can lead to serious complications in older adults,* says the Public Health Agency of Canada.

How handwashing reduces risk

Washing your hands often reduces the risk that germs picked up from droplets in the air, surfaces like doorknobs, or contact with others will infect you, and it prevents the spread of germs to others.*

Washing your hands properly with soap fights germs, like the coronavirus, by helping to dissolve the fatty, greasy outer envelope of the virus, which inactivates or kills it,* says Johns Hopkins University. A study at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto showed that higher hand hygiene compliance rates in long term care resulted in lower infection rates.*

When and how to wash your hands

Wash your hands often, especially after you’ve been in a public place, touched frequently used surfaces or objects, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing,* advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are six steps to help you wash your hands correctly to reduce infection risk:

  1. Turn on the tap with a paper towel and wet your hands with clean, warm running water.*

  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Lather the backs, sides and palms of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.*

  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.*

  4. Rinse your hands under clean, warm running water, using a rubbing motion.*

  5. Wipe and dry your hands gently with a paper towel or a clean towel, or air dry them.* Drying your hands vigorously can damage the skin and increase the risk of infection.*

  6. Turn off the tap using a paper towel to avoid possible recontamination.*

If soap and water aren’t readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.* Alcohol-based sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so water and soap should be used to clean dirty hands.*

*The following sources are references for this blog in order of appearance:

1. Government of Canada. “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks.” (2020), online:

2. Public Health Agency of Canada. “The benefits of hand washing.” (2009), online:

3. Global News. “Here’s why frequent handwashing is recommended in preventing spread of COVID-19.” (2020), online:

4. Public Health Ontario. “Just clean your hands.” (2011), online:

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Handwashing: Clean hands save lives.” (2019), online: read: