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Water-wise handwashing in a time of corona

Here in South Africa, and across the globe, the novel coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic has altered life as we know it. These are uncomfortable and uncertain times, yet the power to slow the spread of the virus remains literally in our collective hands.

Your hands are like loaded weapons containing germs, but proper and regular hand washing has been shown to be the most effective way of getting rid of the virus. Because the virus can live for a long time on materials such as plastic and metal, this means it can be easily transferred on commonly shared surfaces and items such as handles, light switches and countertops.  Municipal dustbins and other such items which might have the virus on them have also been highlighted.

Wash your hands the right way

As the New York Times video clip below shows, it’s important to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and that you use a technique that ensures you lather all areas of your hands with soap.


But remember, we live in a water-scarce country, so do switch off the tap while you’re lathering. Use water at the start to wet your hands and again at the end to rinse the soap off your hands. It’s important that you do not lather your hands under running water, as this washes off the soap before it can do the job properly. The video below shows just how effective soap is in killing virus particles.


What to do when there’s no running water?

The sad reality is that not all South Africans have access to running water. This can pose a huge challenge when we’re encouraged to clean our hands more frequently to avoid the spread of disease. The good news is there are simple homemade devices, using plastic bottles, to create effective handwashing stations (as shown below).

Do it yourself

You could set up a hand washing station using a 5-litre water container with a built-in tap or make a tippy tap using a plastic bottle. The video below, by the International Refugee Trust, is a two-minute guide to creating your own tippy tap.


The big question: How often should you clean your hands?

The best practice advice is to wash your hands as often as possible, but especially after being in public spaces to purchase essential goods as well as, before and after preparing food and after going to the toilet.

© WWF South Africa
Proper hand washing has been shown to be the most effective way of getting rid of the virus.

WWF urges all South Africans to stay safe and stay at home, keep your distance from each other and always wash your hands properly while continuing to be water conscious.

Sue Northam-Ras Photo
Sue Northam-Ras, WWF Communications Co-ordinator

Sue believes in making information valuable by writing and shaping content in a way that gives it meaning. She packages the environmental content for WWF South Africa.

Eitan Prince Photo
Eitan Prince, Digital Communications and Content Manager

Eitan Prince loves the outdoors, both urban and natural. He's also a passionate photographer who loves to capture street scenes.


WWF’s science-based Covid-19 FAQ is a valuable source on information and guidance on the coronavirus. It’s available in English, isiXhosa, isiZulu, SeSotho and Afrikaans.