Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center


Font Size

Hand-washing is a simple and effective way to help prevent diseases, such as colds, flu, and food poisoning.

When to wash your hands

Washing hands:

Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

Get to the Bottom of Your Sore Throat

As a symptom of illness, sore throat rivals fatigue for being both commonplace and a potential sign of catastrophe. Usually, having a sore throat is nothing to worry about -- most are caused by cold and flu germs. In rare cases, however, a sore throat can signal something much more serious. One of the first symptoms of infection caused by the dreaded ebola virus, for example, is a sore throat. And strep bacteria, a common cause of sore throat, especially in children, can spread like wildfire if...

Read the Get to the Bottom of Your Sore Throat article > >

  • Often, especially during cold and flu (influenza) season, can reduce your risk of catching or spreading a cold or the flu.
  • Before, during, and after preparing food reduces your risk of catching or spreading bacteria that cause food poisoning. Be especially careful to wash before and after preparing poultry, raw eggs, meat, or seafood.
  • After going to the bathroom or changing diapers reduces your risk of catching or spreading infectious diseases such as salmonella or hepatitis A.
  • Before and after you care for someone who is sick. It's also important to wash your hands before and after you treat a cut or wound.
  • Before you eat is also a good idea.

Wash your hands after:

  • Touching parts of your body that are not clean.
  • Using the bathroom.
  • Coughing, sneezing, or using a handkerchief or disposable tissue.
  • Handling or preparing foods, especially after touching raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs.
  • Touching an animal, animal waste, pet food, or pet treats.
  • Changing diapers, handling garbage, using the phone, or shaking hands.

Proper hand-washing

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following steps for hand-washing:

  1. Wet your hands with running water and apply soap.
  2. Rub your hands together to make a lather. Scrub well for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. Use a clean towel to dry your hands, or air-dry your hands.

You may want to leave the water running while you dry your hands on a paper towel. Then use the paper towel as a barrier between the faucet and your clean hands when you turn off the water.

If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer or alcohol-based hand wipe that contains at least 60% ethyl alcohol or isopropanol. Carry one or both with you when you travel, and keep them in your car or purse. These products can help reduce the number of germs on your hands, but they do not get rid of all types of germs.

If you use sanitizer, rub your hands and fingers until they are dry. You don't need to use water. The alcohol quickly kills many types of germs on your hands.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerW. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease

Current as ofNovember 14, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat