The Proper Handwashing Technique


(a) The CDC recommends five steps as part of typical handwashing for the general public. (b) Surgical scrubbing is more extensive, requiring scrubbing starting from the fingertips, extending to the hands and forearms, and then up beyond the elbows, as shown here. (credit a: modification of work by World Health Organization)

OpenStax Microbiology

Handwashing is critical for public health and should be emphasized in a clinical setting. For the general public, the CDC recommends handwashing before, during, and after food handling; before eating; before and after interacting with someone who is ill; before and after treating a wound; after using the toilet or changing diapers; after coughing, sneezing, or blowing the nose; after handling garbage; and after interacting with an animal, its feed, or its waste.

Handwashing is even more important for health-care workers, who should wash their hands thoroughly between every patient contact, after the removal of gloves, after contact with bodily fluids and potentially infectious fomites, and before and after assisting a surgeon with invasive procedures. Even with the use of proper surgical attire, including gloves, scrubbing for surgery is more involved than routine handwashing. The goal of surgical scrubbing is to reduce the normal microbiota on the skin’s surface to prevent the introduction of these microbes into a patient’s surgical wounds.

There is no single widely accepted protocol for surgical scrubbing. Protocols for length of time spent scrubbing may depend on the antimicrobial used; health-care workers should always check the manufacturer’s recommendations. According to the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST), surgical scrubs may be performed with or without the use of brushes.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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