Good hygiene practice, and handwashing in particular, is one of the most effective ways for people – whether at home, at work, in school or healthcare – to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from infection.

But 2.3 billion people lack clean water and soap*, and almost half of all healthcare centres lack handwashing facilities, meaning lives are being put at risk every day because people don't have access to the very basics.

Poor hygiene means children get sick and miss school, adults can't work to support their families and patients are at risk in health centres. Whole communities miss out on opportunities to improve their lives.

In fact, many get no chance at life at all. Every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of clean water and an unclean environment**.

So when a community gets clean water and decent toilets for the first time, they also have the power to change their hygiene habits. They can keep themselves and their environment clean, stay healthy and stop diseases spreading, and live dignified lives.

What do we mean when we talk about hygiene?

Hygiene can be hard to define as it covers so many behaviours, from personal hygiene like handwashing, food hygiene and menstrual hygiene, to the clean use of toilets and the safe use of water. Some groups of people are also more affected by poor hygiene – especially people with disabilities, young girls, women and babies.


Whether it's after going to the toilet, before eating or when you're preparing a meal, washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of disease.

Read our blog on steps countries need to take to achieve universal hand hygiene. 

Why do we talk to people about hygiene?

If you've never had a tap or running water before, getting into the habit of washing might not be as easy as it sounds. So when we bring clean water to a community, we also show people how important keeping clean is.

WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

How WaterAid promotes good hygiene

We know through experience that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, and simply explaining the importance of good hygiene isn't enough to make lasting change happen. That's why we listen to people to understand what really drives them to take up new hygiene habits. 

Discover the worlds of two everyday heroes, Chris and Patricia, who are championing good hygiene in their communities to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Making good hygiene normal

See the effects a simple toilet and clean water can have on the hygiene, health and happiness of whole communities.

Hire our handwashing hubs

We developed freestanding handwashing stations with running water and soap. Our contactless handwashing hubs feature a foot pump and touchless soap dispensers.

*WHO/UNICEF (2021)
**WaterAid calculations