Hand Washing Technique with Soap and Water



How to use soap and water for proper hand hygiene.

When soap and water are used, the procedure should take between 40 to 60 seconds to complete. This is the process to follow:

The handwash begins by thoroughly wetting your hands, then you need to apply enough soap or detergent to cover all surfaces of the hands, and also each finger. You need to rub your hands together, ensuring you cover all of your palms. Place your left hand over the back of your right hand and interlace your fingers, and rub them clean. You are trying to clean right between your fingers in all the cracks and crevices, and up and down the inside of your fingers. As well, you are aiming to thoroughly clean the back of your hand. Then, place your right hand over the back of your left hand and repeat this procedure.

Now, reverse and do the insides of your hands. Place your palms together, interlace your fingers and clean both your palms and between your fingers from the inside. Remember to be thorough.

Now, lock your hands together, using your fingers to ensure your palms are opposite to each other. Clean the ends of your fingers and nails really well, making sure the fluid really reaches into the crevices.

Now for your thumbs. Grasp your thumb with the forefingers of the opposite hand and clean it really well in a twisting motion, then do the same on the other hand. You need to completely clean all surfaces of your thumb down to and including your wrist.

Once you have done that, and you feel you are really getting your hands clean, you now need to wash in a circular manner with your clasped fingers into the palm of your hand. Make sure you do this with both hands.

Washed hands should be actively rinsed by rubbing the hands together under tepid or cool running water. When no residual foam is visible, the hands are sufficiently rinsed.

At this stage, you should turn off the taps using a single-use paper towel. Don’t touch the tap itself with your hands as this can cross-contaminate.

Your hands should then be dried immediately with a second single-use paper towel, making sure that the cleaned hands are not recontaminated at turning off or drying procedures.

You are more likely to get skin irritation if you:

  • Do not entirely rinse off all soap after your active hand washing;
  • Do not ensure hands are completely dry before proceeding with your next task or donning gloves;
  • Do not regularly use a compatible hand moisturiser prior to and after each shift.

Damaged skin can change the associated skin flora and potentially increase the risk of transmission of potential pathogens. Healthcare workers with damaged skin are also less inclined to perform hand hygiene when needed, due to the discomfort they may be experiencing. You should regularly moisturise your hands at least before and after each shift.

If healthcare workers experience unusual or prolonged skin irritation, they should bring the matter to the attention of their organisation’s infection control team who will review their technique and use of hand hygiene agents, including glove use.

Learn more about hand hygiene here: https://www.ausmed.com.au/cpd/articles/hand-hygiene-101.

Part of a complete learning course on hand hygiene, written by Cathryn Murphy RN, PhD. Complete the full module with an Ausmed subscription now, visit https://www.ausmed.com.au/cpd/courses/hand-hygiene-essentials.
CPD time3m
First Published09 March 2020
Updated09 March 2020
30 March 2025
Learning Tools
Infectious Diseases
Infection Prevention and Control