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The psychology behind hand cleaning - people need help if hand hygiene is to reduce the spread of Covid-19

07 August 2020

The BPS has produced guidance for the public on how to make hand cleaning a habit, and an effective behavioural approach to effectively reduce Covid-19 cases.

The guidance includes making commitments to hand washing and cleaning hands using alcohol hand gel, learning and prompting ‘hand cleaning moments’, and being educated on how to clean their hands effectively, as well as how to encourage others to do so to protect themselves, their families and communities.

Lucie Byrne-Davis, chair elect of the BPS Division of Health Psychology who worked on the guidance, said:

“Effective hand cleaning is one of the most important defences we have against the spread of Coronavirus, and as lockdown restrictions continue to ease, it has never been more important.

What we want is for hand cleaning to become second-nature to people and there are some simple ways people can do this, including being prepared, making a commitment and learning how and when to clean their hands properly.”

The guidance includes six tips to follow:

  • Learn how to clean hands properly - Imagine your hands are covered in germs and the soap is red paint. You want to make sure you get the paint over every inch of your hands, fingers, thumbs, nails and wrists.
  • Hand cleaning moments - try creating hand cleaning ‘moments’ so they become routine. These include: home moments, public moments and personal moments.
  • Be prepared – place hand sanitisers by the front door on your desk and in your car. Look at ways you can encourage others at home or at work – perhaps you could start a competition.
  • Make ‘If-Then’ plans – for example, if I leave my home, then I will take my hand sanitiser with me. Write these down until they become second nature.
  • Make a commitment – write it down or share with family and friends or on social media. Start your commitment with ‘I will…’
  • Educate and influence – teach your friends about hand hygiene – be supportive and be kind. You could become a ‘hand hygiene’ champion and support others to create good habits.

This guidance has been produced by the BPS Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention task force led by Professor Angel Chater, who said:

“There are many things that influence our hand cleaning behaviour, understanding what these are and using the strategies in this document can help us to keep our hands clean during public, home and personal moments.”


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