Promoting good hygiene habits, especially handwashing, has been a core part of our work since we started.

Our hygiene experts know a lot about how to wash your hands properly, to help prevent the spread of many illnesses, including coronavirus (COVID-19). They’ve answered some of the most-asked questions about handwashing below.

Which method of hand washing removes the most bacteria?

Washing both hands with soap and water thoroughly and frequently is the most effective way to remove bacteria.

Rub both hands together vigorously using soap and water until a soapy lather appears. Continue for at least 20 seconds - as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice.

Make sure you cover:

  • Palm to palm
  • The back of your hands
  • In between your fingers
  • The back of your fingers
  • Your thumbs
  • The tips of your fingers
What diseases could be prevented if we wash our hands properly?

Handwashing with soap can of course prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19, slow down the spread of Ebola and can reduce the likelihood of contracting blinding trachoma. It can also help prevent life-threatening illnesses such as diarrhoeal diseases, cholera, pneumonia and intestinal worms.

These illnesses are very common in the countries where we work, amongst communities without decent toilets and clean water. For people who have no choice but to go to the toilet in the open, or drink water from unprotected and unsafe sources, bacteria can easily spread.

Diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor toilets kills a child under 5 every 2 minutes. That's why it's so important that everyone, everywhere has all three basics: clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

Is there any difference in washing hands with cold water and hot water?

There's no evidence that washing your hands with cold or hot water makes a difference to killing bacteria. The important thing is to use soap, whatever the temperature of the water.

Can you wash your hands with just alcohol?

No. You should wash your hands with soap and water. If water and soap aren't available, use an alcohol based hand-rub.

Can washing your hands too much be dangerous?

No. Even after you've washed your hands, you can pick up new bacteria and germs and re-contaminate your hands - so it's really important to keep on washing your hands with soap and water throughout the day. Handwashing is only a good thing.

Should you wash your hands after blowing your nose?

When you sneeze or cough you release droplets into the air or onto your hands, which is one of the ways viruses spread.

Always wash your hands after sneezing or coughing, to remove any droplets that may have landed on them.

Should we wash our hands after using hand sanitiser?

You should only use hand sanitiser if water and soap aren't available, like when you're travelling or outside. If you do use it, you only need to wash your hands again if you think you have exposed yourself to more germs, for example, by touching a surface.


The coronavirus pandemic is spreading rapidly and we need to protect the people in the countries we work in.

Our teams around the world are urgently scaling up their work to install handwashing facilities in areas where people need them most.

Donate now to help scale up our work

Teaching children the importance of handwashing

Shazia and Nadia washing their hands with soap at a tap in a newly installed facility in their school in Pakistan
WaterAid/Asad Zaidi

Now more than ever, children need to understand how to wash their hands properly and why it’s important. We have lots of fun and educational activities, for children of all ages, that will teach them about hygiene.

Explore hygiene activities for kids

What we're doing about coronavirus

As coronavirus becomes a bigger threat to the countries we work in, we'll be increasing our work in hygiene promotion.

Donate now to support our response
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

We'll be building on the work we already do to make sure everyone, everywhere understands the value of good hygiene. But to support the prevention of coronavirus, we'll be focussing specifically on:

  • Putting in handwashing facilities in areas where people need them most, making it easier for them to keep their hands clean and protect themselves.
  • Launching handwashing campaigns across all the countries where we work, making sure that everyone, wherever they live, knows how important it is to wash their hands with soap, when to do it and how to do it right.
What is the appeal funding?

We plan to run hygiene promotion campaigns in all the countries in which we currently work - using the media and social media to make sure that everyone wherever they live knows how important it is to wash their hands with soap, when to do it and how to do it right.

We'll also work with governments to encourage all of their citizens to play a part – for example encouraging employers to make sure that their premises have handwashing facilities.

We'll also make sure that handwashing facilities are available where lots of people need them – such as bus stations or markets.

Where are you going to be working?

We will be prioritising Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Nigeria as they not only have large populations, but controlling coronavirus in these countries will also protect small neighbouring countries. We have strong existing hygiene programmes in all of these counties already. 

Our next priority will be countries where the risk is currently lower but by acting now, we could help protect against the rapid spread of the virus. These include Nepal, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Myanmar.

How many people don’t have somewhere to wash their hands in your priority countries?

In the developing world where this campaign will focus its work, the latest figures show that three quarters of homes do not have basic hygiene facilities such as soap and water to wash their hands.

  • In Bangladesh, 65% of the population don't have basic handwashing facilities.
  • In India, 40% of the population don't have basic handwashing facilities.
  • In Pakistan, 40% of the population don't have basic handwashing facilities.
  • In Ethiopia, 92% of the population don't have basic handwashing facilities.
  • In Nigeria, 58% of the population don't have basic handwashing facilities.

Support our hygiene work

We're scaling up our hygiene promotion work to make sure the communities we work with can protect themselves against coronavirus.

Learn more about good hygiene

From handwashing to food preparation, good hygiene is vital to stopping the spread of many illnesses - and it's a huge part of our work.

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