Information about Hand Hygiene


2014 STOP! Clean Your Hands Day

STOP! Clean Your Hands Day (May 5, 2014) is a one-day campaign promoting hand hygiene in healthcare organizations across Canada. If you haven't already, register today and demonstrate your commitment to hand hygiene excellence.

What's Your Hand In It?

How does your organization keep on top of it's hand hygiene game? Submit your idea for a chance to present before our judges and showcase your success across the country in our "Dragon's Den" inspired contest. This year, we're offering electronic packages with tools and resources to all registrants to promote and celebrate STOP! Clean Your Hands Day.

Some of the tools you will receive include:

  • A short animated video demonstrating the 4 Moments of Hand Hygiene
  • A printable poster in French and English
  • A Success Checklist to help you plan
  • Printable versions of the 4 Moments for Hand Hygiene pocket cards and Patient and Family Guides
  • A listing of Global Patient Safety Alerts recommendations related to hand hygiene

Click here to visit our new, easier to navigate online store if you'd still like to order physical materials.

Canadian Hand Hygiene Audit

When registering for STOP! Clean Your Hands Day, don't forget to indicate your interest in the Canadian Hand Hygiene Audit. With your support, we'll be able to establish a national perspective on hand hygiene practices. The audit will be conducted during the month of April using the Patient Safety Metrics data collection tool.

Learn more at our next webinar on March 26. Click here to see the entire webinar series schedule.


The Rationale for Hand Hygiene


Why is hand hygiene important?

Hand hygiene refers to removing or killing microorganisms (germs) on the hands. When performed correctly, hand hygiene is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and infections. In health care, hand hygiene is used to eliminate transient microorganisms that have been picked up via contact with patients, contaminated equipment or the environment. Hand hygiene may be performed either by using soap and running water, or with alcohol-based hand rubs.

When should hand hygiene be performed?

In health care, hand hygiene is required:

  • Before and after contact with any patient/resident, their body substances or items contaminated by them
  • Between different procedures on the same patient/resident
  • Before and after performing invasive procedures
  • Before preparing, handling, serving or eating food or feeding a patient/resident
  • After assisting patients/residents with personal care (e.g. assisting patient to blow nose, toileting or doing wound care)
  • Before putting on and after taking off gloves
  • After performing personal functions (e.g. using the toilet, blowing your nose)
  • When hands come into contact with secretions, excretions, blood and body fluids (use soap and running water whenever hands are visibly soiled)

When should soap and water be used?

The mechanical action of washing, rinsing and drying removes transient bacteria present on the hands. Hand washing with soap and running water must be performed whenever hands are visibly soiled.

Any type of plain soap may be used. However, bar soaps are not acceptable in health care settings except for single patient/resident personal use. If used, bar soap should be kept in a self draining holder that is cleaned thoroughly before new bars are put out. Liquid soap containers should be used until empty and then discarded. Soap containers must not be topped up, as there is a risk of contamination of residual soap. Antibacterial soaps may be used in critical care areas such as ICU, or in other areas where invasive procedures are performed.

When should alcohol-based hand rubs be used?

Alcohol-based hand rubs/gels/rinses are the preferred method for decontaminating hands, provided they contain more than 60% alcohol. They are widely used in health care settings, or in situations where running water is not available. Using alcohol-based hand rub is better than washing hands (even with an antibacterial soap) when hands are not visibly soiled.

Won't frequent hand hygiene dry my skin?

Intact skin is the first line of defence against microorganisms, hence it is important to maintain good skin care. To prevent chafing, wet your hands before applying soap and use a mild lotion soap with warm water; pat rather than rub hands dry; and apply lotion liberally and frequently. Skin lotions should be chosen that will not interfere with glove integrity.

Most alcohol-based hand rubs contain emollients to reduce the incidence of skin irritation. Frequen use of alcohol-based hand rub actually lessens the incidence of skin breakdown, as it does not subject hands to the friction and abrasion involved in hand washing and drying hands.

If an individual develops compromised skin integrity, he/she should be referred to Occupational Health for assessment.

Hand Hygiene Procedures

How do I use soap and water?

Good hand hygiene technique is easy to learn. Follow these five simple steps to keeping hands clean:

  1. Remove hand and arm jewellery and wet your hands with warm (not hot) running water.
  2. Add soap, and then rub your hands together, making a soapy lather. Do this for at least 15 seconds, being careful not to wash the lather away. Wash the front and back of your hands, as well as between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Rinse your hands well under warm running water, using a rubbing motion.
  4. Wipe and dry hands gently with paper towel. Rubbing vigorously with paper towels can damage the skin.
  5. Turn off tap using paper towel so that you do not recontaminate your hands.
Download IPAC Canada's Hand Washing brochure: How do I use alcohol-based hand rubs?

Alcohol-based hand rubs should only be used if no visible dirt is present on the hands.

  1. Remove hand and arm jewellery.
  2. Apply enough alcohol-based hand rub to make about the size of a quarter onto your hands, enough when you rub your hands together to cover all areas of your hands, including under your nails (1-2 pumps).
  3. Use a rubbing motion to evenly distribute the alcohol-based hand rub over all surfaces of the hands, particularly between fingers, fingertips, back of hands and base of thumbs.
  4. Rub hands until your hands feel dry (minimum 15-30 seconds).
What are some mistakes I should avoid regarding hand hygiene?
  • DON'T leave hand jewellery on when performing hand hygiene. Jewellery is very hard to clean and hides bacteria and viruses from the mechanical action of the washing/rubbing.
  • DON'T use artificial nails, nail enhancements or long (>3-4mm) nails, as they trap bacteria and are difficult to keep clean.
  • DON'T wear chipped nail polish, as bacteria may become trapped along the edges
  • DON'T use a single damp cloth to wash a group of patient's/resident's/children's hands.
  • DON'T use a standing basin of water to rinse hands.
  • DON'T use a common hand towel.
  • DON'T use sponges or non-disposable cleaning cloths. Remember that germs thrive on moist surfaces.

Hand Hygiene Links

In order to help victims of the Yushu April 14th earthquake, Sichuan University for Nationalities, Kangding, China has translated and adapted the IPAC Canada handwashing brochure, with the permission of IPAC Canada. The information in the IPAC Canada brochure is very helpful in Yushu now where basic hygiene is a major issue. A Tibetan edition and Chinese edition of the brochure are at:

  • Below picture ten says: Don't use the same cloth towel you use for your hands on your face.
  • Below picture twelve says: Let cloth towels hang in the sun.
  • Below picture thirteen are student translations for the message: Is the person beside you washing their hands?
Free Information: Information for Purchase: top
Information for Children & Teachers
History of Hand Hygiene

Table of Contents

Download IPAC Canada's Handwashing Brochure:


Download IPAC Canada's Handwashing Brochure in Chinese and Tibetan

SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands - WHO's global annual campaign...

5 May 2014 - WHO Call to Action:

A Call to Action Website
A Call to Action Presentation