Promoting Hand Hygiene in Schools

It’s back-to-school season—and keeping hands clean is an important way to keep students and staff healthy. Practicing good hand hygiene at school means washing hands for 20 seconds (or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water are not readily available) at key times during the school day, such as after bathroom breaks, before lunch, or after playing outside.

Research shows that hand hygiene education and promotion in schools can result in less gastrointestinal and respiratory illness and fewer missed school days.

So, do you know how to promote hand hygiene in school? Here’s some tips from CDC:

Promote Hand Hygiene in Your School

  • Build time into daily routines for students and staff to wash hands, especially at key times like after bathroom breaks, before lunch, or after playing outside. Take into consideration any additional time students or staff may need to wash their hands. Consider increasing hand hygiene monitoring to ensure adherence among teachers, students, and staff.
  • Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Integrate hand hygiene lessons in K–12 school curricula to regularly remind students of the importance of hand hygiene.
  • Consider making hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol available for teachers, staff, and students. Hand sanitizer is not a substitute for cleaning hands with soap and water. However, hand sanitizers can be placed in areas where soap and water are not readily available (e.g., cafeterias, classrooms, gyms) and near frequently touched surfaces (e.g., water fountains, doors, shared equipment). Supervise young children under the age of 6 when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol or contact with eyes.
  • Consider increasing access to hand hygiene infrastructure and supplies, such as sinks, portable handwashing stations, and hand sanitizer dispensers. When hand hygiene facilities and supplies are available, students and staff are better able to make hand hygiene part of their routine.
  • Place visual cues such as handwashing posters, stickers, and other materials in highly visible areas throughout the school, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, classroom sinks, or cafeteria kitchens.

Know When and How to Use Hand Sanitizer

CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. But if soap and water are not readily available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help school staff and students avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

Hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations. However,

  • Hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, including some germs that cause diarrhea. Always wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet, after handling trash, and when hands are visibly dirty.
Girl washing hands

Caution! Keep hand sanitizer out of reach of young children and supervise their use.

  • Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Hands are often dirty or greasy after activities like eating or playing outside.
  • Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals, like pesticides and heavy metals, from hands.

Prevent accidental poisoning

Hand sanitizers should be stored up, away, and out of sight of children and should be used with adult supervision for children under 6 years of age. Swallowing more than a couple of mouthfuls of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. In fact, calls to U.S. poison centers for alcohol-based hand sanitizers increased by 36% from 2019 to 2020.