arrow_backEmergency WASH

P.2 Access to Handwashing Facilities

The practice of handwashing needs to be strongly promoted in any emergency. Handwashing facilities are a critical precondition; targeted individuals and communities should always have the means to wash their hands with soap and water. Facilities need to be conveniently located for the envisioned handwashing behaviour, e.g. within a maximum of five metres from a toilet (whether private, shared or public), at sites where food is prepared or eaten and at other critical locations in households, schools/learning centres, health care facilities, women and child-friendly spaces, institutions and public spaces. Their functionality and use need to be constantly monitored and they require a constant supply of soap and water.

According to recent studies, the key challenges that reduce the effectiveness of existing handwashing technologies include unreliable access to water and soap; lack of ownership, O&M at the community and institutional level; the prioritisation of distributed or purchased soap for laundry, bathing and dishwashing over handwashing; insufficient drainage around handwashing stations and handwashing stations that break easily or are difficult for some to use.

The recommended minimum handwashing water quantity at public toilets is 1-2 litres per user per day. If the supply is piped, each handwash can use 500 ml of water, though water-saving taps can decrease this volume to 100-250 ml. If piped water is unavailable, alternative ways of providing a constant water supply must be provided (such as using rainwater or establishing rotas for refilling water containers). The minimum amount of soap required for personal hygiene - including handwashing - is 250 grams per person per month. Soap is usually provided in the form of bars, but liquid soap or soapy water may be an alternative, particularly during pandemics like COVID-19 (to avoid shared touch points on soap bars or lack of supplies). If neither water nor soap is available, alternative products may be used (such as a 0.05% chlorine solution if chlorine is sufficiently available and does not compete with other uses such as drinking water disinfection. Soap and a 0.05% chlorine solution should not be used together).

Handwashing facilities should be designed to be inclusive and accessible to all adults and children, including persons with disabilities. All disabilities affecting the targeted population should be assessed, e.g. visual, physical or mental impairments. Facilities should be durable, robust, easy to clean, transport and construct. A wide variety of technical options exist, ranging from simple, low-cost facilities such as buckets with a tap (e.g. Oxfam bucket), Tippy Taps or group handwashing facilities (such as the WASHaLOT) to more robust permanent handwashing stations with tap(s). Drainage of effluent is important to keep the area around the handwashing facility clean and hygienic, not muddy and flooded. Greywater can be collected in a bucket or discharged into open drainage channels or a closed sewer, or directly into a mains sewer.

Handwashing facilities near women’s toilets should be located within the toilet stall, if possible. This supports dignity and privacy when washing hands after handling used menstrual products, as well as encouraging safe menstrual hygiene practices. Women and girls should not be deterred from changing or washing pads, changing tampons or emptying menstrual cups because of a lack of handwashing facilities within the toilet stall. Ideally, handwashing facilities should be designed so that they can be operated hands-free to prevent cross-contamination (e.g. using self-closing taps, foot-operated pedals or elbow-operated levers). However, for people with disabilities (e.g. wheelchair users) hand-operated options may still need to be considered. Self-closing taps may be an alternative: they save water, are more durable and people do not have to touch the tap with their fingers to turn the water supply on and off. Handwashing facilities must be inclusive; children and people with reduced mobility (such as persons with wheelchairs) must be able to reach the handwashing facilities to use them. Adequate lighting must be provided so that people can use the facilities safely at night. Attractive looking handwashing facilities may encourage use T.4 and involving users in their design and decoration may increase familiarity and acceptance. Information, Education and Communication materials T.19 such as posters or paintings on handwashing techniques should be available at handwashing stations and be easy to understand for those with limited literacy.

Hygiene promotion (HP) should also encourage adequate hand drying after handwashing as damp hands can re-contaminate quickly and potentially spread far more bacteria than dry hands. The most pragmatic solution is air drying by simply waving hands after handwashing until they have dried.

Process & Good Practice

  • Involve users in the design, siting and management of handwashing facilities to enhance community ownership of both public and private handwashing facilities. Consult people, especially persons with different disabilities and children of different ages, to ensure that facilities are accessible to all.

  • Strengthen ownership of public facilities through community committees, e.g. WASH Committee T.55, community health F.1, school, market or resident’s committee E.7.

  • Collaborate with communities to ensure adequate drainage around facilities and, if necessary, establish community and household systems for replenishing water and soap supplies.

  • Consult with residents if the theft of infrastructure (such as basins, buckets, taps, soap) is an issue, to understand why it is happening and what can be done about it. Find out which materials are most appropriate for the facility, how they can be secured and how they can be replaced if necessary.

  • Coordinate handwashing interventions during outbreaks of infectious disease when handwashing is a particularly critical intervention. Coordinate P.9 the establishment of handwashing stations: they may be required at a variety of locations such as points of entry/exit checkpoints, the borders of an infected area, international borders, entrances to communities or towns or at the entrance to health posts, schools, places of worship or markets.

  • Use a chlorine solution or hand sanitiser instead of water and soap where there is a high throughput of people (for example a transport hub).

  • Collaborate with WASH engineers P.9 to improve the access and design of handwashing facilities as required. In contexts where there is a shortage of water, the public may not prioritise handwashing. Water may instead be prioritised for agriculture, drinking water for animals or be used for cooling (e.g. with a straw mat and fan). In such cases discuss the importance of hand hygiene with the population whilst advocating P.10 for an increase in the quantity of water where feasible.



To ensure that adequate and enabling handwashing facilities are available so that the affected population has the means to carry out hand hygiene practices.


  • Washing hands with soap and water is considered to be one of the most effective and low-cost WASH interventions to reduce the risk of outbreaks of diarrhoeal/respiratory diseases. Access to adequate facilities is a precondition for handwashing.

  • Handwashing facilities (at least water and soap) need to be located in an accessible position and close to where the envisioned handwashing behaviour should take place (e.g. in homes, communal facilities such as toilets and kitchens, community centres, markets, health care facilities, religious places, schools and women and child-friendly spaces). Facilities must be accessible to all, regardless of age, sex or disability.

  • A safe and sufficient supply of water and soap (or alternative products such as effective hand sanitisers) is needed at all times. Correct drainage, reuse or treatment of the greywater resulting from handwashing facilities must be considered to maintain a sanitary environment around the facility P.5.

  • Handwashing facilities require regular operation and maintenance (O&M), such as cleaning and refilling water containers, minor repairs and restocking of soap. For private households, soap is usually distributed periodically or can be accessed by using market-based interventions such as cash and vouchers P.8. For community facilities, there must be community involvement and ownership and a plan for the replenishment of consumables (e.g. soap) as well as a stock for the replacement of frequently broken or stolen infrastructure such as taps.

  • Links need to be made between community users and public health authorities so that Monitoring M.2 is carried out and the sustainability of the facilities increased.

  • Handwashing facilities form part of a larger group of facilities often termed ‘hygiene facilities’; they include bathing/shower facilities and laundry facilities. Laundry facilities (slabs, basins) are usually located next to a water supply. Just as for handwashing facilities, the drainage of greywater is important as stagnant pools, eroded or muddy areas will negatively affect community hygiene.


Collection of (low-cost) handwashing facilities (incl. different layouts, designs and cost estimates)

Coultas, M., Iyer, R. et al. (2020): Handwashing Compendium for Low Resource Settings: A Living Document, IDS

UNICEF (2020): Covid-19. Handwashing with Soap (HWWS) Facilities

WHO, UNICEF (2021): State of the World’s Hand Hygiene. A Global Call to Action to Make Hand Hygiene a Priority in Policy and Practice

Eawag, GIZ (2022): Handwashing Systems and Technologies. Overview Document on Suitability for Public Use in Low-Income and Emergency Settings

Guidance on how to design handwashing facilities that change behaviour

Wash’Em (2019): How to Design Handwashing Facilities that Change Behaviour

Technical guide for handwashing facilities in public places

Knight, J., Kontos, L. et al. (2020): Technical Guide for Handwashing Facilities in Public Places and Building, WaterAid

Information on latest handwashing evidence and how to integrate it

White, S. (2019): How Can Handwashing Implementers Consistently Integrate the Latest Evidence in Their Work? Global Handwashing Partnership

Information on handwashing stations, tippy taps and group handwashing facilities

UNICEF (2020): Handwashing Stations and Supplies for the COVID-19 Response

Tippytap (undated): Website

GIZ (2018): WASHaLOT 3.0 Group Washing Facility

Challenges and limitations to effective handwashing including overview of current handwashing technologies

Ramos, M., Benelli, P. et al. (2016): WASH in Emergencies. Problem Exploration Report. Handwashing, ELRHA, HIF

Drainage of surface water in camp settings

ELRHA (2019): Sustainable Flood Resilience in Refugee Camps: Combining Sustainable Drainage with WASH