Washing your hands and the children's hands, or encouraging them to wash their hands, is one of the best ways to reduce the spread of disease. Child care providers should be washing their hands many times throughout the day.
When Child Care Providers Should Wash Their Hands
Some of the key times to wash your hands include:
- upon arrival at the child care program
- before preparing, serving, or eating food
- before and after giving medication
- after eating
- after using the bathroom
- after changing a child's diaper or helping a child in the bathroom
- after wiping noses, mouths, sores, or cuts
- after handling body fluids such as diarrhea, blood, mucus, or vomit
- after smoking
- after handling raw eggs, meat, or poultry
- after playing outdoors
- after touching or feeding pets or other animals
- any time your hands look or smell dirty
Tips to Make Hand Washing in Child Care More Effective
In order for hand washing to be effective in eliminating germs, child care providers must learn – and teach children – how to wash their hands properly. Here are some important tips to ensure that children and child care providers wash their hands thoroughly while in the child care program.
Use liquid soap. Bars of soap may collect germs from the previous user, which can spread when others use the soap. Most children seem to like liquid soap, which makes them more likely to use it every time they wash their hands.
Use warm running water. Cold water is less effective at removing germs than warm water. But remember that young children can be burned by water that is too hot. To prevent burns, be sure your hot water supply does not get hotter than 120° Fahrenheit.
Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds. The process of scrubbing hands together helps remove grime and germs. Teach children to sing a hand washing song while they wash their hands to help them remember to scrub thoroughly. Singing a song like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Start" or "Happy Birthday" through twice should take about 20 seconds.
Use disposable single-use towels. A shared hand towel in the bathroom is a prime spot for germs to grow and spread. Disposable paper towels and tissues go a long way toward preventing illness by reducing the opportunity to share germs.
Use hand sanitizers sparingly. Routine hand washing should happen with liquid soap and warm running water. Hand sanitizers may be better when soap and water is not available (such as on field trips) but should never be used to replace hand washing with soap and water. Hand sanitizers contain ethanol, which is toxic if ingested, and are not a safe option for children under 2 who may put their hands in their mouths. Baby wipes can be used to wipe infants' and toddlers' hands when there is no soap and water. Keep all hand sanitizers out of the reach of children.
Wash infants' and toddlers' hands too. Some child care providers forget to wash infants' and toddlers' hands with running water because it is difficult to get them in the right position at a sink. Proper hand washing begins in infancy, and washing infants' and toddlers' hands is an important way to teach them proper hand washing and prevent the spread of germs. As infants and toddlers grow, encourage them to begin washing their hands independently. A step stool may come in handy to help raise children to sink level, but make sure you never leave young children unattended around water.
For More Information
Proper, thorough hand washing is the child care provider's best tool to prevent the spread of illness in the child care program. To learn more, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: