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Keeping your baby or toddler clean

Read our tips for when and how to wash babies and toddler’s hands, as well as encouraging good hygiene.

We’ve all heard the advice that handwashing is one of the best lines of defence for preventing infection. But that can be easier said than done when you have a baby or toddler who’s eager to grab hold of everything and then stick their hand straight in their mouth with no sink in sight.

Find out how to keep them clean and try to reduce the risk of infection, at home and out.

When should children wash their hands?

NHS guidelines state that your child should wash their hands:

  • After using the toilet or potty (you should wash your hands after changing their nappy)
  • Before eating
  • After blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing
  • After touching pets and pet food
  • As soon as you get home to reduce the risk of infection.

(NHS, 2020)

If someone has coronavirus symptoms in your house, they should have a towel of their own to dry their hands, which others should not use. This will help stop the virus spreading.

How should they do it?

The current NHS advice is for everyone to wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. This is the length of time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.

You could mix this up by substituting any familiar nursery rhyme they like. (Note: the nursery rhyme police aren’t going to mind if you get the words wrong or take longer than 20 seconds). Watch the video and see step-by-step pictures on how you should do it here.

Even if your toddler is normally proud of the fact that they can wash their hands on their own, it’s probably best to supervise them just for the moment. It’s easy for them to miss a bit or do it too quickly (for adults too), so it might be a good idea to help them for now.

How do you get them to wash their hands?

Toddlers understandably struggle to see the importance of washing their hands. You could demonstrate how good soap is for removing dirt with this pepper and soap trick. Check out this YouTube video which has gone viral.

Vanessa, mum to Eva, 21 months, says:

“I draw a smiley face on the back of Eva’s hand with a washable felt tip, then challenge her to wash it off. Even if it doesn’t come off straight away, she has fun trying to remove it and her hands get clean in the process.”

Keeping clean out and about

Unfortunately, baby wipes aren’t as effective as soap and water or hand sanitiser at killing the COVID-19 virus. So what can you do when you’re in public spaces and you have a very hands-on child?

Susan, mum to Regan, five, and Miles, two, says:

“My sons both love pressing the traffic lights button when we go shopping. But I’ve had to stop them doing it for the moment as I know they’ll touch their face and mouth afterwards. It’s also to stop them passing germs onto other people.”

If you have hand sanitiser, squirt it into your baby or toddler’s hand after they’ve touched something that lots of people are touching, like a handrail. Rub it in until it’s dry.

Generally try to avoid giving your baby or toddler snacks or other things they’ll put in their mouth, like a teether, until you’ve had a chance to wash their hands thoroughly.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

Interactive, engaging and social, our live online antenatal course is a great way for you to meet other local parents, and get essential unbiased information and knowledge about pregnancy, birth and early days with your baby.

Read the NHS advice on what you should do to try and prevent passing on the virus to other people at home.

Take a look at the latest public health guidance for pregnant women and parents.

NHS. (2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19). Available at:
[accessed 16th March 2020]

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