How to Teach Children About Hand Washing

Washing hands is a basic hygiene skill for kids. The earlier a child learns to properly wash his hands, the greater defense he has against germs that may cause illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend washing hands with soap and warm water, scrubbing for about 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand cleaner is a suitable alternative when soap and water isn’t available.

Glo Germ Gel

A product called Glo Germ helps kids see how well they are washing their hands. Have the kids spread the gel all over their hands before washing as normal. Then have each child hold his hands under ultraviolet light after washing — the remaining germs will glow, and show where he didn’t wash well. The areas under the fingernails and between the fingers are where the kids will miss the most. Have the kids practice washing their hands again, focusing on the areas that glowed.

Glitter Hands

Glitter also works well to help kids learn the importance of hand washing; the glitter represents germs. Sprinkle different colors of glitter on the hands of two or three volunteers — using different colors allows the kids to see that they get germs from many different people throughout the day. The kids should shake hands with each other, then, after a few minutes, examine their hands to see all of the glitter they accumulated.

The glitter also presents a challenge to wash off, just like regular germs. Start with a paper towel to wipe away the glitter. The kids will notice that some of the glitter remains on their hands. Washing with cold water and no soap gets a few more of the glitter germs off, but washing with warm water and soap will yield the best results. Help the kids relate the activity to the importance of washing hands for germ removal.

Hand-Washing Chart

A hand-washing chart serves as a reminder for kids to wash their hands throughout the day. The CDC recommend washing hands after handling food, after going to the bathroom, before and after caring for someone who is sick, after handling garbage or pet waste, when treating a wound, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Create a chart with columns for each different hand-washing occasion. The kids earn stickers when they remember to wash their hands without a reminder.


Singing a song as the child washes her hands teaches her how long to wash. The CDC recommend having your child sing “Happy Birthday” twice, to reach approximately 20 seconds. Singing a round of the ABCs also serves as a rough timer for washing hands. Choose a song that your child enjoys, as long as it takes at least 20 seconds to sing.

by Shelley Frost