Global Handwashing Day

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an important reminder that one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs and stay healthy is also one of the simplest — handwashing with soap and water. Keeping hands clean can prevent 1 in 3 diarrheal illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu.

Student washing her hands at an outdoor wash basin.

Each year on October 15, Global Handwashing Day highlights the importance of handwashing with soap and water at home, in the community, and around the world.

Global Handwashing Dayexternal icon serves as a yearly reminder that handwashing with soap and water is one of the best steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The observance was established by the Global Handwashing Partnership in 2008. This year’s theme, “Hand Hygiene for All,” seeks to raise awareness of making soap and water available globally, especially in public places, schools, and health care facilities. It also calls for institutions and individuals to improve hand hygiene efforts in the COVID-19 response that can outlast the pandemic and ensure continued access to clean water and soap.

Many germs that can make people sick are spread when we don’t wash our hands with soap and clean, running water. That is why handwashing is so important, especially at key times such as after using the bathroom, when preparing food, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

Handwashing in Communities

Handwashing with soap and water is not only simple and inexpensive, but also can dramatically reduce the number of young children who get sick. Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Handwashing education in the community can:

  • Reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by about 23–40%
  • Reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29–57%
  • Reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by about 58%
  • Reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by about 16–21%