Health and Safety

Keeping It Clean: A Guide to WHO 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene

Abu Sayed Naiem
Abu Sayed Naiem

In the bustling world of public healthcare, where the well-being of others rests in our hands, proper hygiene is paramount. But beyond a simple scrub-a-dub-dub, the World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined a strategic approach to handwashing known as the WHO 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene.

May 5th is celebrated as the World Hand Hygiene Day. This framework, like a reliable umbrella, shields patients and healthcare workers from spreading germs.

Let’s jump into why these five moments are crucial and figure out how to wash hands effectively. Understanding the skill of good hand hygiene is like learning an art for a safer environment.

Close-up of a mother teaching her girls how to wash their hands

A Spot of Context

Before we talk about our main point, let’s give you a quick background. Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are a real problem, causing unnecessary suffering and putting pressure on our healthcare systems. Germs, those annoying little travellers, can easily move from —

  • person to person,
  • equipment to patients,
  • and even hide on seemingly harmless surfaces.

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This is where hand hygiene steps come in to prevent infections and control, acting like a superhero cape against these tiny enemies. Coronavirus Prevention is one example we can all understand well right now.

The WHO 5 Moments framework gives healthcare workers a clear and simple guide to follow, making sure they’re tackling those sneaky germs at every important moment. By consistently following these 5 moments of hand hygiene by WHO, we can significantly lower HAIs and make a safer, healthier environment for everyone.

Woman in a dressing gown washing her hands with soap under running water from a tap

The WHO 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene

Now, let’s break down these five moments of infection prevention and control to see why each way of washing hands is crucial in stopping harmful germs. Remember, a quick splash and brief rub won’t be enough!

Washing hands thoroughly using the right technique acts like a superhero shield, keeping both you and your patients safe.

So, what are the five moments of hand hygiene? Let’s get into the details of these hand-washing signs.

Before Touching a Patient

Picture yourself walking into a patient’s room. Every surface you touch, every handshake or comforting pat, could be a way for microscopic germs to spread.

Before you touch anything or make any physical contact, like adjusting a pillow or taking a temperature, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water. Scrub really well for at least 40 seconds, making sure to get the backs of your hands, wrists and thumbs, and don’t forget those often-overlooked fingertips. Those invisible germs like to hide in the little corners and crevices, so it’s important to be thorough!

Before you touch a patientShaking hands, helping them move, doing healthcare procedures, and touching medical devices connected to them (like a pump or catheter).
Before doing personal care things with physical contactBathing, dressing, brushing hair, putting on personal aids like glasses.
Before checking certain health signs without invasive methodsChecking pulse, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and temperature, listening to the chest or abdomen, applying ECG electrodes, and using cardiotocography.
Before giving certain non-invasive treatmentsUsing an oxygen mask, fitting slings or braces, using incontinence aids, checking the mouth without sharp tools, and doing oral X-rays.
Before getting oral medications ready or giving themPreparing or giving oral medications, giving medications through a nebuliser.
Before helping with oral care and feedingFeeding a patient (except through a tube), brushing teeth or dentures.

Close-up of a doctor washing his hands using a disinfectant dispenser

Before Clean/Aseptic Procedure

Before clean/ aseptic procedures, like before using medical tools for things such as injections, catheters, or changing bandages, wash your hands thoroughly using WHO’s handwashing technique for surgical hand disinfection to make sure every part of your hands is really clean and free from germs.

Medical procedures can get messy. Things like blood, mucus, or even sweat might accidentally end up on your hands. Germs will inevitably be present in these substances. So, it’s crucial to wash your hands right after the procedure.

Use the correct handwashing technique for optimal infection control, and be extra careful with the parts of your hands that might have touched these fluids.

Before sticking a needle in a patient or a device connected to them:  Drawing blood, checking blood sugar, giving shots, flushing an intravenous line.
Before giving medications through a device inside the body:  IV medications, feeding through a nasogastric tube, feeding through a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube.
Before setting up a clean area for a procedurePreparing tools for a clean procedure.

Before giving medications with direct or potential contact with mucous membranes: Putting in eye drops, inserting a suppository, placing a vaginal pessary.

Before putting in or touching a device inside the body:Procedures with an endotracheal tube, tracheostomy, airway suctioning, urinary catheter, etc.
Before any assessment or treatment where contact is made with damaged skin or mucous membranes, or there’s a chance of piercing tissue or a cavity:Changing wound dressings, surgical procedures, checking newborn palates, invasive obstetric and gynaecological exams, dental exams, etc.
Before getting things ready for oral health or dental procedures:Giving topical medications, like fluoride or anaesthesia, or materials for dental procedures.

Close-up of a woman washing her hands with a bar of soap

After Body Fluid Exposure Risk

Wash your hands really well, even if you wore gloves, right after a task or if there’s a chance of touching body fluids. This helps protect healthcare workers and the environment from the patient’s germs.


  • After doing a procedure.
  • After putting a needle in a patient’s skin or a device inside.
  • After giving medications through a device or setting up a clean area.
  • After giving medications with direct contact with mucous membranes.
  • After inserting or messing with the circuit of a device inside.
  • After any assessment, treatment, or care involving damaged skin, mucous membranes, or a chance of piercing
  • tissue or a cavity.
  • After preparing and giving medications or materials for oral health or dental procedures.

After possible exposure to body fluids:

  • Contact with a used urinary bottle/bedpan, sputum, or specimen jars/pathology samples.
  • Cleaning dentures, cleaning spills of body fluids, oral suction tubing, or touching the outside of a wound or chest drain.
  • Contact with used dental instruments or appliances.
  • Touching surfaces that could be contaminated with body fluid.

If you don’t wash your hands properly, you might have heard about something called Food Poisoning. Take a look at our insightful blog to learn about Food Poisoning – what it is, its types, causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Close-up of a man lathering his palm with soap over the sink \

After Touching a Patient

Even a small act, like helping a patient sit up or fixing their bedsheets, can secretly transfer micro germs. After you’re done with these tasks and have moved away from the patient, head back to the sink for another round of handwashing.

Don’t underestimate the potential for germs on seemingly harmless surfaces—treat them just as seriously as direct contact with the patient. Keeping your hands clean is a powerful way to prevent the spread of germs, even in situations that may seem routine or simple.

After Touching a Patient’s Surroundings

Bedrails, call buttons, and even the ordinary water jug – these seemingly lifeless objects can turn into busy germ hotspots. After touching anything around a patient, don’t forget your reliable soap and water. Every touch could be a way for germs to move around, so it’s crucial to stay vigilant and keep up with your hand hygiene.

Don’t lower your guard, even with objects that might seem harmless at first glance.

Food Hygiene Ratings and WHO Five Moments for Hand Hygiene share a common goal of ensuring hygiene. Visit our insightful blog to learn about Food Hygiene Ratings.


What are the 5 essential times to wash your hands?

There are five key moments when handwashing is absolutely crucial to prevent the spread of germs and stay healthy:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food: This helps prevent foodborne illnesses from contaminating your meals and infecting others.
  • Before and after eating food: Wash your hands before to avoid swallowing germs you might have picked up. Wash afterwards to stop spreading those germs to surfaces or others.
  • After using the toilet or changing diapers: These activities expose your hands to a high concentration of germs, and washing immediately afterwards stops them from being spread to other surfaces or people.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing: Germs from these actions can stick to your hands and make others sick. Washing up stops this spread of germs.
  • After touching animals, animal waste, or garbage: Animal waste and garbage carry a lot of germs, so it’s crucial to wash your hands after touching them. This helps avoid spreading those germs to yourself or others.

Remember, these are just the essential times, and frequent handwashing throughout the day is always encouraged, especially after being in public places or touching shared surfaces.

What are the 3 types of hand hygiene?

Hand hygiene encompasses various methods for reducing the presence of harmful germs on our hands. The three main types are:

  1. Handwashing with soap and water: This is the most effective and recommended method for removing germs. Lathering your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and scrubbing all surfaces ensures thorough cleaning.
  2. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers: These are a convenient alternative when soap and water aren’t readily available. Choose sanitisers with at least 60% alcohol content for optimal effectiveness.
  3. Gloving: Wearing gloves is appropriate in specific situations, such as healthcare settings or cleaning contaminated areas. However, it’s crucial to remember that gloves can become contaminated, too, so proper handwashing after removing them is essential.

Why is personal hygiene important?

Personal hygiene is crucial as it prevents illness by reducing the risk of infectious diseases, promotes good health by preventing skin and respiratory problems, boosts confidence, and improves relationships by showing respect for oneself and others. In essence, it’s an investment in overall health and well-being, affecting both physical and mental aspects.

Why is hygiene necessary for students?

Good hygiene habits are particularly important for students for several reasons:

  • Reduces absenteeism: Maintaining hygiene minimises the risk of illness, leading to fewer missed school days due to sickness.
  • Improves concentration and learning: Feeling clean and comfortable enhances focus and concentration, leading to better learning outcomes.
  • Promotes positive social interactions: Good hygiene habits foster positive relationships with classmates and teachers, creating a more pleasant learning environment.
  • Develops lifelong habits: Learning proper hygiene practices during school years lays the foundation for healthy habits that benefit students throughout their lives.

What are the 3 main goals of WHO?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has three main goals:

  1. Promote health: WHO aims to achieve the highest attainable level of health for all people worldwide. This includes activities like disease prevention and control, promoting healthy lifestyles, and ensuring access to quality healthcare services.
  2. Keep the world safe: WHO works to protect people from health threats through global surveillance, and emergency preparedness and response, and promoting research and development in health technologies.
  3. Serve the vulnerable: WHO focuses on providing healthcare and support to vulnerable populations, such as refugees, children, and people living in poverty.

What are the steps of NHS hand-washing?

The steps of NHS hand-washing are:

  • Wet your hands with water.
  • Apply enough soap to cover your hands.
  • Rub your hands together, including the back of your hands and between your fingers.
  • Use one hand to rub the back of the other hand and clean between the fingers, then switch hands.
  • Rub your hands together and clean between your fingers.
  • Grip the fingers of each hand together, rub your fingertips together, and rub the back of your fingers against your palms.
  • Rub one thumb using your other hand, then switch thumbs.
  • Rub the tips of your fingers on the palm of your other hand, then switch hands.
  • Rinse your hands with water.
  • Dry your hands completely with a disposable towel.
  • Use the disposable towel to turn off the tap.

Wrapping Up

By incorporating the WHO 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene into your daily routine, you become a hygiene hero, safeguarding not just yourself but also the vulnerable patients entrusted to your care. Remember, consistent and proper handwashing is a simple yet powerful task that can have a profound impact on healthcare outcomes.

So, let’s make it a habit, shall we?

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Abu Sayed Naiem