Teaching kids to wash their hands is just one more thing for parents to remember—and one more thing for kids to fight about. Do kids really need to wash their hands throughout the day? Isn’t once before dinner enough?

The CDC calls handwashing
a “do-it-yourself” vaccine.

Routine handwashing is nonnegotiable to keep kids
healthy. It directly reduces the spread of respiratory and
diarrheal illness.

The CDC recommends regular handwashing all day long, before and after certain activities. This small step is one of the best preventative measures a child can take to avoid sickness and halt the spread of germs to other children.
Handwashing is easy for parents and kids to overlook. Maybe you don’t have time to wash your child’s hands before a snack. Maybe there isn’t a clean restroom around to wash up after your child pets a dog at the park.

Still, handwashing must remain a priority. The Minnesota Department of Health emphasizes,

“Hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.”

There are roughly 1,500 bacteria on each square centimeter of the skin.

Furthermore, 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted through touch. This is precisely why the CDC refers to handwashing as a DIY vaccine; next to vaccination, the most important thing you can do to protect you and your child’s health is to wash hands regularly.

20 second handwashing
is the golden rule.

Instead of leaving kids to run soapy hands under water, parents can teach kids to scrub all areas of the hand within this 20-second block.

Most frequently missed areas include thumbs, fingertips, and the top of the hand—where bacteria can still remain after handwashing to spread from child to child.

Teaching the handwashing habit early on is one of the best things you can do for your child. Handwashing as a social practice is imperative as your child grows into an adult.

Results from studies by the American Society for Microbiology indicated:

The outlook was even worse for young adults. 50% of middle school and high school students claimed to wash hands, though only 33% of females and 8% of males actually used soap to wash hands.

Michigan State University researchers confirm in the Journal of Environmental Health that only 5% of people wash their hands effectively enough to destroy infectious germs after using the toilet.

In the study, 10% of the 3,749 people observed in public restrooms skipped washing their hands completely. 33% did not use soap when washing. Men were more likely to skip handwashing after using the toilet than women.

While some may argue that it is perfectly acceptable to skip traditional handwashing in favor of hand sanitizers, the CDC disagrees. The CDC states that washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on hands in most situations. 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer should only be used to clean hands when soap and water are not available.

The ABCs of Handwashing
for Kids

Handwashing is a habit that needs to be instilled in kids at a young age.

Once this hygiene habit is locked in place, it will be easy to maintain. By teaching handwashing to young children, you’ll cut down on the unnecessary spread of illness. You’ll also raise your kids to be hygienic adults—simply put, your kids will be less likely to be among the 95% of people who do not effectively wash their hands in a public restroom.

how do you avoid germs in a public restroom?

  • 64%

    Operate flusher
    with foot

  • 60%

    Use paper towel
    when touching
    door handle

  • 48%

    Open and close
    door with behind

  • 39%

    Use elbow to
    avoid all contact

Source Bradley Corp. Healthy Hand Washing Survey

help kids appreciate the power and
purpose of handwashing:


Regular and effective handwashing can help to improve school attendance rates. School absences are most often caused by illness and can spike during flu season. Sick kids miss out on important school lessons. Parents who stay home with sick kids miss precious time and earnings at work.

When kids wash hands more often, everybody wins

Researchers investigated a study group of 773 students ages 4-14, observing if it was more effective to teach and remind children regularly about handwashing or to provide extra time and materials to wash hands.
Age-appropriate instruction won out over handwashing opportunity. The instructed student group showed a greater drop in overall absenteeism related to illness. The greatest differences between the two groups were observed during flu season.

While it may be difficult to explain the importance of school attendance to a young child, the effectiveness of handwashing instruction is the key takeaway. Kids respond well to age-appropriate hygiene lessons with “refresher courses” at home and at school.


The CDC provides simplified handwashing guidelines for kids and adults alike. Remember to wash:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food.

  • Before eating.

  • Before and after interacting with someone who is sick.

  • Before and after treating a cut.

  • After using the restroom.

  • After changing a diaper or helping another child use the toilet.

  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing the nose.

  • After interacting with an animal or animal waste.

  • After throwing away or touching garbage.

The 2013 Bradley Handwashing Survey confirmed that 86% of parents saw handwashing as important and planned to talk to their children about it before returning to school.


The “how” of handwashing is the main factor in teaching your kids good hygiene. As research has already indicated, most of us don’t know how to wash hands effectively.

Teach your kids these five handwashing steps every time you scrub up:

Wet hands under warm running water.

Soap up hands and rub them together to create a lather. Scrub hands with soap away from running water for 20 seconds. Make sure to turn the water off while you’re scrubbing to conserve water! Wash front and back of hands, between fingers, and underneath fingernails.

Rinse hands well under warm running water. Take care to let water run in the sink and not down the arms.

Dry hands well with a clean towel, turn off water faucet with a clean paper towel, and dispose in the trash can.

Ask for hand sanitizer or a wet wipe if soap and water are not available.


Parents can take cues from childhood educators who have adopted the ABC 1-2-3 method of sanitation.

Preschool teacher Karen Robison of the Learning Center for Young Children in Maryland teaches students the alphabet while encouraging cleanliness at the same time. The magic of the Alphabet Song is that it is simple, catchy, and lasts roughly 20 seconds.

Robison leads kids in singing the Alphabet Song while washing hands as part of classroom routine, a minimum of three times a day. Robison passes on to kids what parents can reinforce at home: Use the 20 seconds wisely to lather and scrub away pathogens hidden in the crevices of the hand, especially under fingernails.

Handwashing seems simple, but there is technique involved. 20 seconds of ABC handwashing can keep kids interested in the task at hand. Older kids who are sick of the Alphabet Song can time and wash to their own favorite lyrics; NPR suggests the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” as a popular 20-second alternative.

The Top 10 Hygiene Tips for Kids

Handwashing is the foundation of overall cleanliness. Once your child has mastered routine handwashing before and after activities, you can move on to hygiene to improve health and appearance.

Make these top 10 hygiene tips for kids part of
your daily routine:

Brush teeth

Dental hygiene is an essential habit that starts even before a baby cuts their first tooth. Brush an infant’s gums with a flexible finger brush and water; once teeth come in, use a child-friendly toothbrush to brush twice a day and discourage swallowing.

Clean ears

Never use Q-tips to clean a child’s ears since you risk injury to the eardrum; clean visible earwax outside the ear canal with a warm, damp washcloth.

Clean private parts

Parents can teach kids to clean private parts with mild soap and water.

Clean under fingernails

Cleaning deeply under fingernails should be part of the 20 second handwashing process; kids can use a nail brush and clip fingernails during bath time.

Cover mouth

One essential habit that will benefit all kids in the classroom is to teach your child to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. The dirty tissue should be thrown in the garbage after use, followed by handwashing.

Soothe skin

Basic skin care starts for infants and children with a calming lotion after a bath; preteens and teens must be taught how to care for skin daily to manage oil and acne triggered by puberty.

Take baths

Every parent knows that kids have a love/hate relationship with bath time; make daily bath time fun with specialty kids’ bathing products and new bath toys.

Wash hair

Infants and younger children need hair washed 2 to 3 times a week. Once puberty hits in the tween and teen years, hormones may increase oil production in hair; encourage teens to shampoo at least every other day.

Wear deodorant

Body odor may start as early as age nine; remind kids to wash after activity and wear antiperspirant or deodorant when needed.

Wipe after toilet use

During potty training, wiping becomes top priority; guide kids to wipe from front to back and wash hands well after every visit to the toilet.