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Hand Washing

One of the best things you can do to prevent infection is to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.
Last updated: July 11, 2023

Washing your hands often and practicing good hand hygiene will reduce the chances of getting or spreading germs like COVID-19. 

Washing your hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds is most effective. This is because soap actively destroys the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19 and really reduces how much of the virus is left on your skin. Alcohol-based hand rubs can be used to disinfect your hands when soap and water are not available. 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Using soap and water is the single most effective way of reducing the spread of infection because soap actively destroys the surface of the virus.
  • If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand rubs can be used to clean your hands as long as they are not visibly soiled. If they are visibly soiled, use a wipe and then alcohol-based hand rubs to effectively clean them.
  • Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue or the crease of your elbow when you sneeze or cough instead of your hands.
  • Do not share food, drinks, utensils, etc.

It's safe to wash your hands with soap if you are living in a community with a Boil Water Advisory (BWA) or a Do Not Consume (DNC) advisory. 

However, if you are living under a Do Not Use (DNU) advisory you should wash your hands with bottled water. 

For more information, please refer to the First Nations Health Authority’s drinking advisories page.

COVID-19 is transmitted by liquid droplets when a person coughs, sneezes or spits. 

Touching surfaces contaminated with droplets containing COVID-19 and then touching your face particularly your eyes, nose or mouth can make you sick. 

That is why we recommend washing your hands often, especially when you are likely to get or spread germs: 

  • Before touching your eyes, nose, mouth or face
  • After you have been in a public space or touched a surface frequently touched by other people like doors, payment machines, gas pumps, etc.
  • After using the toilet or helping a child use the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Before and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before smoking
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses
  • Before and after flossing
  • Before and after sex
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
  • Before and after changing diapers 
  • After touching an animal or pet or handling animal waste 
  • After touching waste or garbage
  • After handling shared objects 

How to clean your hands poster (PDF)

  1. Wet your hands with running water (warm or cold
  2. Apply soap
  3. Lather and scrub your hands with soap, covering all surfaces including the palm and backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. 
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel. 
  6. Use a towel to turn off the tap (in public spaces)
If you are using alcohol-based hand rub, ensure your hands are not visibly soiled, apply about a loonie-sized amount of sanitizer and rub all surfaces of your hands until completely dry, about 20 seconds.

Wash your hands 

While alcohol-based hand rubs can be used to disinfect your hands, washing your hands with soap and hot water for the appropriate length of time is most effective. This is because soap actively destroys the surface of the virus and really reduces how much of the virus is left on your skin.

Do not make your own hand sanitizer 

Health Canada cautions against homemade hand sanitizers as they may present health risks such as skin irritation, increased sensitivity or allergies. Non-approved products may also not be effective for COVID-19 and give people a false sense of security. 

Health Canada recommends using alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are authorized for sale in Canada.

To help get hand sanitizer to those who need it, some companies who have never made hand sanitizer are now manufacturing it. These hand sanitizers are liquid (not gel) and have been temporarily approved for use during COVID-19.  These sanitizers are sometimes packaged in bottles or cans that look like beverage containers.

If you purchase sanitizer in a package that could be mistaken for a beverage container, pour the hand sanitizer into a different container (such as a spray bottle) that has been emptied, cleaned, and dried.   Alternatively, replace the cap of the existing bottle with a pump to make the product look different from drink containers. Label the bottle and store out of the reach of children, pets and people with dementia.

If you think someone has swallowed any amount of hand sanitizer, call your local poison control centre. For the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre, call 1-800-567-8911.
If washing hands is not possible, children can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is approved by Health Canada. Please read labels carefully as some products are for adults only and should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Hand sanitizer is not recommended for use on infants as their skin is still developing and changing. 

Visit the Keeping Children Safe page for more information on the safe use of hand sanitizers with children.

SOURCE: Hand Washing ( )
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