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How to wash your hands effectively

Nursing Standard (2014+); London Vol. 30, Iss. 3,  (Sep 16, 2015): 34. DOI:10.7748/ns.30.3.34.e9691

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Preparation and equipment

During clinical practice and when in contact with patients, nurses should ensure their clothing does not extend below the elbow, and jewellery should be limited to one plain-band wedding ring. Any cuts or breaks in the skin should be covered with a water-resistant dressing. Nails should be clean, with no varnish or artificial nails. The following should be available:

Access to a sink area with warm water, for washing hands using soap and water (not required when using alcohol hand gel).

Soap from a liquid dispenser (not a bar of soap), or alcohol hand gel.

Moisturiser (not required when using alcohol hand gel).

Paper towels (not required when using alcohol hand gel.


There are two approaches to hand hygiene: using soap and water or alcohol hand gel. The procedures for each are detailed.

Hand washing using soap and water

Turn on the taps at the sink using your elbows, or foot pedals if provided. Check that the water is at a comfortable warm temperature and wet your hands thoroughly from the tips of your fingers to your lower forearms.

Dispense one to two applications of liquid soap into the palm of your hand.

Rub your hands together to create a lather - this should take about ten seconds.

Follow stages two to seven of handwashing, as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) ( 2006a ) ( Figure 1 ).

Rinse your hands thoroughly using water only, ensuring that all soap is removed from your hands and lower arms.

Turn off the taps using your elbows, or foot pedals if provided. Alternatively, use a clean paper towel to turn off the taps. Do not use your hands.

Dry your hands and lower arms using a clean paper towel, and dispose of the used towel in accordance...