When water is scarce people typically prioritise water for tasks other than handwashing – things like drinking, bathing, laundry, and dishes.  In such settings, people may just rinse their hands with water rather than using soap because using soap is perceived to increase the amount of water required. A key behavioural task in areas that are water-scarce will be to reposition handwashing with soap as more important than other household tasks at this time.  

There is the potential for handwashing to consume lots of water but hands can be washed with a relatively small amount of water. Wet hands first. Then apply soap. If you are using piped water from a tap make sure to switch the water off while you lather-up your hands. Rinse your hands until all the soap is visibly removed. In some countries people reuse handwashing water to water flowers. It is also possible to design activities to show people that washing hands with soap consumes less water than they might expect by comparing it to another task that is performed regularly in the home e.g. making tea or coffee.

There are also some simple add-on handwashing technologies that reduce the flow of water allowing hands to be washed with a minimal amount of water. These include the SpaTap, the Oxfam Handwashing Tap and the Drop as pictured below from left to right. Even a simple bucket-style container with a tap has been shown to use less water than pouring from a jug.


Alternatively there are simple DIY ways of restricting the stream of water. One example is using a jerry can and a nail as shown in the images below.  

It is also possible to use greywater for handwashing (see ‘Can I use greywater or water that is not clean for handwashing?’).

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Editor's note

Author: Sian White
Review: Katie Greenland, Ammar Fawzi
Last update: 13.04.2020

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