Good personal hygiene is a learned behavior.  Hopefully children will learn good habits at home, but whether they do or not, you will have plenty of opportunity to instill in them a sense of the importance of good habits and to demonstrate for them good hygiene practices.  As they practice, they are learning about their bodies and taking pride in mastering these skills.


Situations that Require Hand Washing

Hand washing is one of those things we may not like to bother with, but it is absolutely critical that we develop and practice good hand washing habits working with children.  It is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infection.

Insuring proper washing of hands can do more to promote a healthy environment than almost any other single activity.  Studies have shown that the incidence of diarrheal illnesses can be decreased by as much as 50% and that colds can be reduced significantly just by implementing frequent and proper hand washing procedures.  The following chart should help you to identify those times when staff and children need to wash their hands.


Hand Washing Chart


Before and After





Moving from one child group to another

Handling food; uncooked food, especially raw meat/poultry

Using the toilet or helping a child use the toilet

Coming in from monitoring or playing outdoors

Feeding a child

Handling bodily fluids (mucous, blood, vomit) from sneezing, wiping and blowing noses, from mouths or sores


Giving Medication

Handling Pets and other animals


Handling or playing in water that is used by multiple persons

Playing in or tending to sandboxes



Cleaning rooms/toys or handling garbage


Bodily fluids are the primary source for the spread of colds and diarrheal illnesses.  Sandboxes can harbor parasites from animal feces and pets can be a unique source of infections.  Eating is a time when germs from bodily fluids or other sources of infection that may have been touched or handled can be transferred from the hands to the food to the mouth and into the body.


Hand Washing Procedure

Pic7A thorough washing of hands should be done using comfortably warm (60-120º F), running water with liquid soap.  Washing to a lather for at least 10 seconds, followed by proper rinsing and appropriate drying procedures most effectively removes organisms and prevents transmission of disease. 

Warm water is more comfortable and effective than either cold or hot water.  Running water helps to remove soil.  Wetting the hands before applying the soap helps to create the lather that loosens soil so that it is removed when rinsing.  Liquid soap has many practical and hygienic advantages over bar soap.  Using a paper towel to turn off the water and open the door helps to prevent recontamination of the hands.  When soap and running water are unavailable, as during an outing, cleansing towlettes may be used until hands can be washed with running water.

Some children are too young to wash their own hands and will need assistance.  If they are unable to stand and can be safely held in one arm, caregivers should provide assistance at the sink.  If they are able to stand, the sink needs to be low enough or a safety step provided that allows them to freely place their hands under the faucet.  Caregivers should first assist the child and then wash their own hands.


Training and Monitoring Hand Washing 

Watch this video on how to teach proper hand washing.

Both training and monitoring of hand washing are important.  Training without some follow-up monitoring or surveillance to help establish consistency and modify behaviors often fails to accomplish the desired decrease in the spread of infection.  A good program will insure that all staff and children are properly trained with regard to the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of hand washing.

This training need not be laborious.  There are many creative ways in which hand washing training is done.  There are songs that can be sung and creative 'germs' to be washed off so that children can see the importance and effect of each of the steps.  

Additionally, a best practice is to institute some method of follow-up for monitoring the practice within the facility.  A well-conducted hand washing program involving both training and monitoring is one of the best preventive measures for controlling the spread of infectious disease.  

For more information about teaching and maintaining good hygiene, try our online child care classes:

A Healthy Environment

Basic Cleanliness

Bloodborne Pathogens

Common Illnesses: What to Do