Q and A: Important Tips for Hand Hygiene | Salter School of Allied Health and Nursing
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Q and A: Important Tips for Hand Hygiene

washing hands for health care professionals, hand hygiene tipsNursing school students learn the importance of hand washing

Washing your hands seems like a very simple task. It’s something we all learned to do when we were little children. However, did you know that washing your hands properly is one of the single most important ways to prevent infections from spreading? Students in nursing school at the Salter School of Nursing and Allied Health are learning about the importance of hand hygiene in medical settings. Part of their training is learning proper hand washing techniques that help to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses.

As we train our nursing assistants and practical nursing students, we want to be sure they are taking the right steps. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used research to develop guidelines on the most effective methods for washing your hands in a medical facility. Take a moment to read our Q and A and see if you are following this protocol:

Q: Which is better at killing germs? Soap or hand rub?
A: The answer is “it depends.” Here’s what the CDC recommends: If you have visible dirt or contaminants on your hands, you should use soap and water. If you do not see any visible dirt or contaminants, then use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Q: When should nursing assistants and other healthcare providers wash their hands?
A: In nursing and medical settings, you want to avoid passing infections from one patient to another. Therefore, it’s important to wash your hands all of these times:

  • Before direct contact with a patient
  • Before putting on gloves, if you are inserting something invasive, like a catheter or injection
  • After direct contact with the patient’s skin (even if the skin is unbroken)
  • After direct contact with any bodily fluids (blood, saliva, mucous, etc.)
  • After you remove and discard your gloves

Q. What is the procedure for using hand rub effectively?
A: Hand rubs can be slightly different from one another, depending on the manufacturer. For this reason, it’s important to read the label. Pump the recommended amount into your palm. Next, rub yours hands, making sure that the hand rub gets to all surfaces of your hands, including in between your fingers. Rub until your hands are completely dry. The evaporation is what makes hand rubs work, and they will not be effective if you don’t wait until your hands are dry.

Q: What is the proper procedure to wash with soap and water?
A: You may have heard that you should sing the alphabet song while washing your hands. This is great advice, because a quick rinse is never effective enough to remove germs. The best way is to start by wetting your hands and wrists (even going partway up the forearm). Apply the amount of soap that the manufacturer recommends in one palm. Rub your hands together and get the soap on every part of your hand and wrist, including between your fingers and under your fingernails. Rub for at least 15 seconds. Rinse thoroughly to wash the contaminants down the drain. Use a sanitary single-use paper towel to dry your hands, and be sure to dry them completely. Use the paper towel to turn off the faucet.

Q: When should a nursing professional wear gloves?
A: Gloves are not needed for all procedures. In accordance with universal standard precautions, gloves should be used when you will have contact with blood or other bodily fluids. Be sure to remove the gloves immediately after caring for the patient and dispose of them properly. Never wear the same gloves with another patient. You should not wash gloves. Instead, dispose of them properly.

Q: Can a nursing professional have long fingernails?
A: As you might expect, having long fingernails can create a place where bacteria and other germs can hide. Keep your nails to ¼ inch or shorter.

This Q and A was adapted from the CDC’s hand hygiene webpage and the article “Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-care Settings.” (MMWR 2002; vol. 51, no. RR-16.) For more information and resources, see the CDC’s hand hygiene resources.




The Salter School of Nursing and Allied Health, located in Manchester, New Hampshire, trains students to become Licensed Nursing Assistants, Patient Care Technicians, and Practical Nurses in the state of New Hampshire. Contact us online to learn more.