Skip to Content


By Kim Stanton, R.N. Gayco Nurse Consultant

December is National Handwashing month, a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of hand hygiene.

We all know as healthcare workers, that the easiest way to prevent disease transmission is through hand hygiene. Hand hygiene is the process of cleaning your hands through the use of soap and water or the use of an alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR).  Effective hand hygiene removes bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms along with dirt and other harmful and unwanted substances from the hands.

The CDC considers hand hygiene to be one of the most important acts that health care workers do on a daily basis. Hand hygiene should be performed before and after patient care, before and after performing an aseptic task, before moving from a soiled site to a clean site, after touching a patient and their immediate environment, after contact with blood, body fluids, or contaminated surfaces, and immediately after glove removal.

Which one? ABHR vs soap and water?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the preferred method for cleaning your hands if they are not visibly dirty because it is more effective at killing germs on hands than soap, it is easier to use during the course of care, and is potentially less irritating than soap ( CDC, 2021).  Healthcare Providers | Hand Hygiene | CDC

Soap and water should be used when hands are visibly soiled, or with certain known pathogens or contaminants. Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizer at removing certain germs such as clostridium difficile, noroviruses, and cryptosporidium. It is also more effective if hands are visibly soiled.

Alcohol-based hand Rub:

  • Apply a palmful of the product in a cupped hand and cover all surfaces
  • Rub palm to palm and between fingers, backs of hands and fingertips, and fingernails.
  • Continue to scrub all hand surfaces until the alcohol sanitizer dries, this should take 20 seconds or more.


  • Wet hands with clean running water
  • Apply a palmful of soap and later all surfaces of your hands.
  • Continue to scrub all hand surfaces, including between fingers, tips of fingers, under nails, and backs of hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse under clean running water without touching surfaces of the sink
  • Use a clean dry paper towel to dry hands and use a clean paper towel to turn off the faucet.

The single best way to protect ourselves and our patients from the spread of germs, viruses, and diseases is to practice appropriate hand hygiene.

Consider starting a Gel In, Gel Out campaign at your location.