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Hand Washing 101 for Nurses

January 7th, 2011 by – Marijke Durning

Earlier this week, you read about washing your hands (Hand Washing Audits for Nurses) and while hand washing is a common, almost natural thing to do, it appears that many people – including nurses – aren’t properly washing their hands or are not washing them at all. Only half of the nurses in the study mentioned washed their hands. This finding improved after a six-week hygiene-training program, but not to 100 percent. When it comes to hand washing, nurses should score 100 percent. Always.

When to Wash Your Hands

Some of the times when you must wash your hands are patently obvious, but again, it’s disturbing to know how many people don’t do this very simple task. For best hygiene practices, you should wash your hands before:

– Eating or drinking yourself
– Giving medications
– Leaving your floor/unit
– Preparing a snack or meal tray, or a drink
– Touching a patient

You should always wash your hands after:

– Arriving home
– Coming in from outside the facility
– Dealing with any type of body fluid, a patient’s or yours,  including coughing into your hand
– Feeding a patient
– Handling animals including assistance animals
– Taking off your gloves (gloves are not 100 protective)
– Touching a patient
– Touching trash
– Using the toilet

How Do You Wash Your Hands?

Most nursing stations and many public sinks in hospitals have posters to remind people to wash their hands, but not everyone knows how to do this properly. If you have to explain hand washing to someone, here is an example you may use:

Soapless or alcohol hand cleansers are an excellent way to wash your hands if they are not visibly dirty. In fact, it’s been found that they do a better job of cleaning in these situations than soap and water. The motions of how to clean your hands with these cleansers are the same as with soap and water.

For the most effective hand washing:

1- Remove any rings and jewelry, including watches and bracelets
2- Use warm running water (not too hot) to wet your hands thoroughly
3- Apply the soap to your wet hands and lather them thoroughly over a period of  15 to 20 seconds
4- While you will instinctively rub your palms together and go over the tops of your hands, don’t forget to go in between the fingers, down to the web, particularly between the thumb and pointing finger. Remember to clean your fifth finger and your wrist. Finally, be sure to get under your nails.  This should take at least 30 to 60 seconds
5- Once you have finished washing your hands, gently pat them dry. Don’t rub them vigorously as this is irritating to your skin. If possible, use an individual paper towel. If you are at home, try having individual hand towels for each person in your household.

    If you are using a soapless cleanser,  you follow the same cleaning motions as with the soap and then allow your hands to dry naturally. Don’t rub them on your clothing to speed up the drying process.

    Hand washing, as basic as it is, is the foundation of good health care and health promotion. We should be vigilant about including it all the time.

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    Posted in Common Nursing Procedures

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    The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is intended as a supplement, not as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.