Viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 can be spread by hand contact. Many people often touch their nose or mouth with their hands, without even noticing. One of the important recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus is to follow the hygiene guidelines. But what is hygiene? Why are clean hands important? What is disinfection? And how can you ensure good hygiene in your own home? This page offers more information about these questions. 

What is hygiene?

Hygiene is a collective term for everything you do that minimises your contact with pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, like SARS-CoV-2 or the flu virus (influenza). That includes washing your hands and keeping your home clean. Sometimes it is also necessary to disinfect after cleaning. 

Clean hands are important

Washing your hands regularly ensures that your hands are clean and removes pathogens. This prevents you from spreading pathogens that can make you sick via hand contact.

Watch the video: washing hands is important

When should you wash your hands?

In any case:

  • after an activity outside the home (such as shopping or playing outdoors)
  • before preparing food
  • before eating food
  • after going to the toilet
  • after contact with animals
  • before and after caring for someone who is ill.

What is disinfection?

Disinfection kills pathogens (micro-organisms such as viruses, fungi, bacteria and parasites that can cause illness). It is primarily needed in places where many pathogens could be present, such as in a hospital. Disinfecting an entire area, such as at work, at school or at home, is not necessary unless advised by a doctor, your GP, the Municipal Public Health Service (GGD) or RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment .

Disinfectants are usually mixtures of one or more active ingredients and one or more excipients (auxiliary materials). Active ingredients render the micro-organisms harmless. It is important to only use disinfectants when absolutely necessary. When disinfectants are overused, pathogens can become less sensitive to the disinfecting substance, making it increasingly difficult to kill the pathogens.

Clean or disinfect?

You can clean surfaces effectively using soap and water or an all-purpose cleaning product. Examples include door handles, counters, display shelves, shopping carts and baskets, and school and office furniture. Proper cleaning reduces the risk that pathogens will get inside you. Cleaning removes pathogens. This reduces the chance that you will get them on your hands. Examples of cleaning products are cleaning wipes, soap or all-purpose cleaner.

It is not necessary to use disinfectants at home. If you clean with cleaning wipes or all-purpose cleaner, that is sufficient. Moreover, if used incorrectly, disinfectants can be harmful to the environment and to human health. And pathogens could become insensitive to a disinfectant if you use it often. In that case, the disinfectant will stop working. Read more about household cleaning and disinfection (in Dutch only). 

Does someone in your home have COVID-19, and do you want to know if you need to start disinfecting?  Please contact your GP or the Municipal Public Health Service (GGD) for more information.

Soap and water or disinfecting hand gel?

The best way to clean your hands is soap and water. This is the best method for removing pathogens – especially from dirty or sticky hands. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser or hand gel will not work as well on hands that are dirty and sticky.  Only use disinfectant hand gel if you will not have a place to wash your hands with soap and water for an extended period of time. In other situations, it is sufficient if you make sure not to touch your face with your hands, and you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as you get home.

It is important to use a disinfectant hand gel only if absolutely necessary. If you use it too often, pathogens could become less sensitive to the disinfecting substance. In that case, the disinfectant will not kill the pathogens effectively enough. In some cases, a hand gel does not state on the label that it is a disinfectant. In that case, it has not been proven to be sufficiently effective against pathogens such as the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The Dutch Board for the Authorisation of Plant Protection Products and Biocides (Ctgb) maintains an online list of products that are approved and effective against SARS-CoV-2.

Frequently asked questions

Can I become ill from the SARS severe acute respiratory syndrome-CoV coronavirus-2 virus if I touch or grasp items or surfaces outside the home?

There is minimal risk that you will become ill if, for example, you touch or grasp items or surfaces in a shop or when you are visiting someone. To avoid becoming ill, do not touch your face with your hands and make sure you regularly wash your hands thoroughly.