Make handwashing a daily habit | Western Cape Government

Make handwashing a daily habit

Global Handwashing DayEveryone can protect themselves, their families, and their communities by washing their hands with soap. It requires a few resources - just soap and a small amount of water - yet the benefits are huge. 

Why is handwashing so important?

Handwashing with soap improves health and saves lives by preventing infections. Many infections start when hands are contaminated with disease-causing bacteria and viruses. This can happen after using the toilet, changing a child’s diaper, coughing, sneezing, touching other people’s hands, and touching other contaminated surfaces.

Why should you wash with soap?

Germs that can cause illnesses are present in the dirt, grease, and the natural oils on your hands. Water alone doesn’t remove these germs effectively, but if you use soap as well, it will help break down germ-carrying materials on your hands. Soap also facilitates rubbing and friction which can remove germs from your hands, and can then be rinsed away with water. 

Washing your hands is important because:

  • People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realising it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Which can make you sick.
  • Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.
  • Removing germs through handwashing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.

When should you wash your hands?


  • Eating or feeding children.
  • Applying contact lenses.
  • Giving medication or first aid.


  • Using the toilet or changing a child’s nappy. 
  • Handling pets and domestic animals. 
  • Contact with blood or body fluids.
  • Coughing, sneezing, or blowing and scratching the nose.
  • Contact with a potentially contaminated site.

Before and after:

  • Handling raw food.
  • Tending to someone who’s sick.

And whenever:

  • Hands appear dirty.

Hand sanitiser

Washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to prevent infections, and germs from spreading. If soap and water isn’t available, then using hand sanitiser, with at least 60% alcohol is also effective.

Hand sanitisers with a concentration of 60% - 95% alcohol are the more reliable sanitisers to use to clean your hands. However it should be noted that hand sanitisers doesn’t remove all germs and bacteria.

Hand sanitiser is not as effective when it comes to removing visibly dirty or greasy hands. We recommend that you use soap and water to wash your hands if you were playing sports, gardening or handling food.


5 Fun ways to get your children to wash their hands

1. Handwashing chart

A handwashing chart serves as a reminder for kids to wash their hands throughout the day. Create a chart with columns for each different handwashing occasion. The kids earn stickers when they remember to wash their hands without a reminder.

2. Make it easy, comfortable and safe to do

Small children may find it hard to reach the taps and basin easily, so provide a child-safe stool or step they can use to comfortably reach the tap and soap.

3. Use foaming soap

Creating bubbles will make handwashing a fun activity for children.

4. Lead by example

Let your children see you wash your hands throughout the day and wash your hands with them. 

5. Singing a hand wash song

Singing a song as your child washes their hands teaches them how long to wash.  Have your child sing "Happy Birthday" twice, to reach approximately 20 seconds, or sing a round of the ABCs also serves as a rough timer for washing hands. But you can choose any song that your child enjoys, as long as it takes at least 20 seconds to sing.

Watch  the handwash song video

The content on this page was last updated on 18 March 2020