Personal hygiene is how you care for your body. This practice includes bathing, washing your hands, brushing your teeth, and more.

Every day, you come into contact with millions of outside germs and viruses. They can linger on your body, and in some cases, they may make you sick. Personal hygiene practices can help you and the people around you prevent illnesses. They can also help you feel good about your appearance.

Learn more about why hygiene is so important, the best ways to practice it, and how you can change your habits to make yourself feel and look better.

Each person’s idea of personal hygiene differs. These main categories are a useful place to start for building good hygiene habits:

Toilet hygiene

Wash your hands after you use the restroom. Scrub with soap for 20 to 30 seconds, and be sure to clean between your fingers, on the back of your hands, and under your nails. Rinse with warm water, and dry with a clean towel.

If you don’t have running water or soap, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will also work. Use one that’s at least 60 percent alcohol.

Shower hygiene

Personal preference may dictate how often you wish to shower, but most people will benefit from a rinse at least every other day. Showering with soap helps rinse away dead skin cells, bacteria, and oils.

You should also wash your hair at least twice a week. Shampooing your hair and scalp helps remove skin buildup and protects against oily residues that can irritate your skin.

Nail hygiene

Trim your nails regularly to keep them short and clean. Brush under them with a nail brush or washcloth to rinse away buildup, dirt, and germs.

Tidying your nails helps you prevent spreading germs into your mouth and other body openings. You should also avoid biting your nails.

Teeth hygiene

Good dental hygiene is about more than just pearly white teeth. Caring for your teeth and gums is a smart way to prevent gum diseases and cavities.

Brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes. Aim to brush after you wake up and before bed. If you can, brush after every meal, too. Floss between your teeth daily, and ask your dentist about using an antibacterial mouthwash.

These two steps can help prevent tooth decay and eliminate pockets where bacteria and germs can build up.

Sickness hygiene

If you’re not feeling well, you should take steps to keep from spreading germs to others. This includes covering your mouth and nose when sneezing, wiping down shared surfaces with an antibacterial wipe, and not sharing any utensils or electronics. Also, immediately throw away any soiled tissues.

Hands hygiene

Germs on your hands can easily enter your body through your mouth, nose, eyes, or ears. Wash your hands:

  • when you handle food
  • before you eat
  • if you handle garbage
  • when you sneeze
  • any time you touch an animal

Likewise, wash your hands after changing a baby’s diaper, helping someone clean themselves, or when cleaning a cut or wound.

Good personal hygiene will help your kids stay healthy, ward off illnesses, and build better self-awareness.

It’s never too early to start teaching hygiene. You can wipe down your child’s hands after changing their diapers or before eating, brush their teeth and gums before bed, and get them into a daily bath routine. This helps you begin the process and slowly teaches them as they grow and take over the process.

Here’s a list of hygiene activities, how you can introduce them, and when is a good time to start:

Brushing teeth

You can begin brushing your baby’s teeth and gums the moment the first tooth pops up. They can brush their own teeth by about 3 years old. However, you may have to stay with them to guarantee they’re doing a good job and brushing long enough.

Play a 2-minute song when it’s time to brush teeth. That will let your little one know how long they have to brush, and they’ll get used to the process. Likewise, you may have to continue flossing for them until they’re older and can handle that task better, around age 7.

Bathing

You’ll be giving your baby baths regularly, but by about age 5, they should be able to handle this task on their own. As they’re growing and you’re supervising bath time, you should take the opportunity to teach about washing all the different body parts, especially:

  • armpits
  • groins
  • neck
  • belly
  • knees
  • elbows
  • back
  • feet

You can also use this time to teach them how to wash their hair without getting suds in their eyes — and what to do if they do.

Hand washing

Wipe your baby’s hands with a warm washcloth before mealtime, after eating, and after changing a diaper. During potty training, make washing hands an integral step in the process.

You can teach your child to sing the ABC song while they wash — it’s 20 seconds long, which is an ideal washing time.

Make it a priority to ask your child to wash their hands any time you’d like to encourage good hygiene, like before meals, after playing outside, after petting an animal, or after being near a sick friend.

Nail hygiene

You’ll clip your child’s nails when they’re a baby, but as they grow older, you can help them care for their own nails. Encourage your children to wash under their nails at each shower — a fun nail brush will help. Then, sit down with them weekly after a shower for a trim. Your nails are softer and clip more easily after a shower.

By age 7, most children should be up for the task alone.

Good personal hygiene habits are directly related to less illnesses and better health. Poor personal hygiene habits, however, can lead to some minor side effects, like body odor and greasy skin. They can also lead to more troublesome or even serious issues.

For example, if you don’t wash your hands frequently, you can easily transfer germs and bacteria to your mouth or eyes. This can lead to any number of issues, from stomach viruses to pink eye.

Not brushing your teeth can lead to teeth issues and plaque buildup. Poor dental care is also a risk factor for several serious health issues, including heart disease.

Poor hygiene habits can also affect your self-esteem. Looking and feeling presentable can give you a confidence boost and a sense of pride in your appearance.

Other conditions may be prevented or the risk minimized by practicing good personal hygiene. These are some examples:

If you want to improve your personal hygiene or help a child develop better habits, these strategies might be helpful:

Set reminders

If you can’t remember to do things like shower, wash your hair, clip your nails, or brush your teeth, set a reminder on your phone. The cue will push you to the activity, and over time, you’ll begin to do it yourself.

Use signs

Hang a reminder in the bathroom to wash your hands after using the toilet. Put a little sign by the plates or bowls in the kitchen to cue yourself to wash your hands before eating. These signs can help jog your memory and improve your habits. They can help both you and your children.

Practice makes perfect

It takes time to learn a new habit. Start with a new habit at the beginning of the week and make it your priority. Practice it for a week or two. When you feel comfortable with it, add a new one. Overtime, you’ll establish the habits you wish to have.

Q:

Is it better to shower in the morning or at night?

A:

The decision to shower in the morning or at night is mainly based on personal preference. Some people feel that a morning shower helps them “wake up” and improves alertness. It may also make you feel calm and fresh for the day ahead, and that may decrease inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol. Others prefer to take a shower or bath in the evening as a form of relaxation and to remove any dirt, germs, or allergens before going to bed. Some experts assert that bathing at night helps one sleep better.

Individuals should consider their personal bodies and preferences. For instance, if you tend to sweat during sleep, a morning shower might be best. However, if you tend to hit the snooze button until you’re running late, consider a nighttime bathing routine to avoid being rushed. Some people choose to bathe twice a day. However, this might dry out your skin. The choice is yours, just be sure to build a healthy personal hygiene habit.

Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNAAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Building good personal hygiene habits takes a lifetime of learning and honing. Caring for yourself in these manners is good for your physical health as well as your mental health. If you find it difficult to adapt to these practices, talk with your doctor or dentist.

Sometimes, explanations and demonstrations are a good jump-start for taking better care of yourself. This is especially true for kids. A doctor can better explain the consequences of not caring for yourself, and a parent can use them as backup for building habits that will last a lifetime.