Disease Prevention: General Hygiene

Simple, practical advice on ways in which you can prevent disease for yourself and those around you.

Hand washing

Hand washing is generally considered to be the most important way to stop the spread of infection.

How to wash your hands properly . . .
  • Use soap and running water. Warm to hot water is best.
  • Wet hands thoroughly and lather with soap.
  • Rub hands vigorously for at least 10-15 seconds as you wash them.
  • Pay attention to back of hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails.
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry hands with a disposable paper towel or a clean towel. To minimise chapping (reddening, roughening or cracking of skin) of hands, pat dry rather than rub them. Electric hand driers may be used. If cloth towels are used select a fresh towel each time or if a roller towel is used, select a fresh portion of towel.
  • Turn off the tap with the used paper towel, if applicable.
  • Use skin lotion, if necessary, to prevent dry cracked skin. If you use skin lotion, it should be rinsed off before preparing or handling food.

Hands should be washed before eating, smoking or preparing food and after going to the toilet, touching animals, gardening or handling objects soiled with blood or other body substances.

Cuts and abrasions should be covered with a water-resistant dressing which should be changed as necessary or when the dressing becomes soiled.

Hand soap

A bar of soap or liquid soap may be used for hand washing. If reusable containers are used for liquid soap, they must be cleaned and dried before refilling with fresh soap. The type of soap does not matter, provided it is well tolerated by the user.

Keeping areas clean - Household cleaning and kitchen hygiene

Person-to-person spread, especially by soiled hands, is the major means of spreading infectious disease.

In general, household surfaces play a minor role. However, regular cleaning is still important to maintain a healthy environment.

Cleaning with detergent and warm water is all that is necessary to maintain a clean and healthy environment. Remove all the visible dirt as you clean. Surface disinfectants are frequently unnecessary and certainly only effective after thorough cleaning.

Kitchen hygiene is important to prevent food poisoning

All surfaces in the kitchen, such as crockery, cutlery, the tops of benches, stoves and sinks, walls and the inside surfaces of cupboards, need to be kept clean. Leaving leftovers and spills to become dry will make them much harder to remove.

To clean a surface in the kitchen effectively, you need to remove all visible soiling using detergent and warm water. This is usually all that is necessary. Surface disinfectants are usually not necessary, and usually only work well on a surface that has already been cleaned.

If you do use a disinfectant, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use it. This includes how much water to add to it, what water temperature to use, and how long the object needs to be in contact with the disinfectant.

  • Diluted disinfectants deteriorate on standing.
  • All diluted disinfectant should be used immediately after preparation.
  • Wear gloves when using chemical disinfectants as disinfectants are a common cause of dermatitis.
  • Empty buckets after use, wash with detergent and warm water and store dry.
  • Mops should be cleaned in detergent and warm water and stored dry.
  • Cleaning sponges should be changed frequently or disinfected regularly. Floor spills should mopped up with a single-use paper towel which is discarded after use.
  • Dishes should be washed in warm to hot soapy water and rinsed in hot water. It is best to leave dishes to air dry. If you do this, don't place a tea towel over them as this will only spread bacteria from the tea towel onto the clean dishes. Change your tea towel when it becomes dirty or wet.
  • Separate chopping boards should be used for raw meats and ready-to-eat foods. If this cannot be done, the chopping board should be washed in hot soapy water and rinsed before being re-used. The same applies to utensils, knives, benches and plates. If required, chopping boards can be sterilised by washing in hot soapy water and then rinsing with diluted bleach or washed in a dishwasher using the highest heat setting.
    Separate sponges should be used for cleaning dishes and cleaning floors. Sponges should be changed frequently or disinfected regularly.
  • Floor spills should not be mopped-up with the dish sponge. Mop floor spills with a single-use paper towel that can be thrown away.
  • Clean inside your fridge and cupboards regularly. Crumbs in cupboards can attract pests and dirty fridges can carry bacteria.
Hygiene in the garden

Sandpits can become contaminated with animal faeces and urine, usually from cats. Therefore, sandpits need to be properly constructed with adequate drainage. The sand should be raked often and when not in use the area should be covered (eg, with a tarpaulin or shadecloth).

Many gardening activities bring the gardener into contact with organisms that can cause illness. Gardeners should wash their hands before eating, drinking or smoking. If vegetables are brought into the kitchen from the home garden, they should first be thoroughly washed outside.

Adapted with permission from "You’ve got What?" Department of Human Services, South Australia.