Should we be using hot, warm or cold water to wash your hands?

Greg Davies

Greg Davies
Director of Market Development, Assurity Consulting
22nd June 2020

This has mainly been focussed on schools and the return to the classroom/playing fields/outside areas, but is nonetheless an interesting point. So what is the answer?

Our personal hygiene is under close scrutiny at present, specifically as cleaning and effective hand washing are key components of the COVID-19 Secure strategy. The GOV.UK's “Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)”  sector guidance covers it under section “5.3 Hygiene: handwashing, sanitation facilities and toilets” (the Other people’s homes and Vehicles guidance is different) states:

“Objective: To help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day

Steps that will usually be needed:

  1. Using signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid touching your face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available.
  2. Providing regular reminders and signage to maintain personal hygiene standards.
  3. Providing hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to washrooms.
  4. Setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible.
  5. Enhancing cleaning for busy areas.
  6. Providing more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection.
  7. Providing hand drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical driers.”

The Workplace Health, Safety (and Welfare) Regulations / L24  say washing facilities  should “include a supply of clean hot and cold, or warm, water (which shall be running water so far as is practicable)” (21.( c)) and “they include soap or other suitable means of cleaning;” (21.( d))

While this would be appropriate for most employers and workplaces, it doesn’t address the outdoor (non toilet related handwashing) or really cover this additional practicality of getting hands ‘COVID clean’ by having more than the standard provision of welfare facilities. Although the latter can be covered by hand sanitisers - literally!

In relation to outdoor handwashing, the closest other similar situation could be at open farms, and the guidance from the Health and Safety Executive states ‘preferably warm’ water is used.

As to which, hot, cold or warm water is best, the general consensus I found is, apparently it doesn’t matter, providing soap is used and the process is thorough. References for this include:

However, looking forward, especially in schools, washing hands using cold water only outdoors in Autumn and Winter is unlikely to encourage children to do it properly, so it may be worth considering a hot and cold option. Remembering with young children, you also need to consider mixing to reduce hot water temperature appropriately and that hand towels or a dryer are needed, as the Covid-19 handwashing advice is to dry them properly afterwards.