How Do You Wash Your Hands? A Look at Simple Hand Washing Stations

As we all know, washing our hands is very important.  This is especially true when you’re working with food, have just used the toilet, or are caring for children.  Washing our hands removes bacteria and pathogens and is a key part of keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy, especially our children.  People all over the world wash their hands, but depending on where you are in the world the experience may be very different.  I’m fortunate to live somewhere where all I have to do is walk over to my sink and turn on the water, put some soap in my hands, wash and rinse.

However, for millions of people it is not this easy, especially in rural areas of developing nations.  To alleviate this problem a number of different hand washing stations have been developed over the years, and are continuing to be developed today.  In this article I’ll take a look at several different types of hand washing stations being used throughout the world.  All of them are simple to use, and most use a simple design that can be replicated almost anywhere.  Let’s get started.

Demotech’s Hy2U

Demotech’s Hy2U (Hygiene to U) hand washing station is one of my favorite in the group.  I love how it uses simple materials that you can find pretty much anywhere, as well as the minimal contact that your hand has with it in order to get the water to flow.  The Hy2U was partially designed and field tested in Ghana by several students in 2007.  In Ghanaian markets many items are sold in what they refer to as “rubber bags”.  They’re semi-strong bags which are water tight (soup is often sold in them), and are the base for this design.

The design is very simple.   You basically have 5 parts: the rubber bag, a cloth bag, a piece of wood for the base, a wooden self-closing valve, and material to connect everything.  You take the rubber bag and attach a board to the bottom of it using string and rubber bands (being very careful not to puncture the bag).  This board includes the wooden valve which is made separately.  The wooden valve is the most difficult part of the system, but is still fairly easy to make.  I won’t go into the details, but you can find all the information you need here and here. Once the board with the valve is attached the rubber bag everything is placed inside of a cloth bag that has a hole in the bottom to allow the valve to pass through.  The cloth bag serves to protect the rubber bag from being damaged, as well as making the Hy2U look nice.  What a great idea!

Hand Wash Stand from

This hand washing station is a little more complicated and uses materials that may be harder to find, but it is still a very inventive idea.  Here’s a picture of the completed stand:

As they say on their website, there are many different configurations that can be used to make a similar water stand.  Quickly, what you have is a supply tank that supplies water to the foot pump via a pipe/hose and valves (inlet).  Then you have a separate piece of pipe/hose that is the outlet from the foot pump, and leads the water up to the faucet head.  Finally you have a catch basin that collects the used water, which could potentially be reused.  Add a soap dish or a soap-on-a-rope, and you’re good to go!  They show the stand with brass valves, PVC pipe, pump bladder from an old hose, etc., however, there are a number of different materials that can be used with the same outcome.

What I really like about this stand is that you don’t have to touch anything with your hands; it’s all done with your foot.  When you touch a water valve or turn a handle on a faucet with your hand you have the potential of catching a disease left by the last user, or passing on a disease to others. But by using your foot to pump the water you are eliminating this threat.

All of the information needed to make this hand washing station can be found here.

The Canacla

This idea is great if you have the ability to make pottery in your area.  Taken from traditional pottery found in West Africa, the Canacla is a beautiful and safe way to wash your hands.  Once you get past the difficulty of making the pottery (not actually difficult if you know what you’re doing), the Canacla seems fairly simple.  I say ‘seems’ because I have not yet been able to find plans or a good description of the valve system used in the Canacla, but let’s look at what we do know (and we can do a little speculation about the valve).

You have the large jug that holds the water.  It is covered, which is good to eliminate the possibility of the water becoming contaminated, as well as a ledge for a bar of soap.  Then you have a second ceramic piece that is attached to the front of the jug.  This piece is used to open and close the valve.  If you look at the picture below you can see some of the details of this piece.  A metal rod is attached to the underside of this piece so that when you lift it pulls open the valve, releasing the water.  There are a number of ways that this can be accomplished, and if you have a mechanically inclined person in your area they should be able to figure out a way to make it work.  Basically all that needs to happen is the action from lifting the ceramic piece needs to translate into lifting whatever is covering the outlet.

Again, similar to the last hand washing station, I like this one because you do not use your hands to turn the water on or off.  The ceramic piece is lifted with your wrists, which put your hands in the perfect position to catch the water.  Then you remove your wrists and the water stops.  Which leads to the second thing I like about the Canacla: the water doesn’t stay running, and therefore, you use/waste less.  You can find more information about the Canacla here.

Hands-Free Tippy Tap

The Tippy Tap is one of the most popular hand washing systems in the world.  I would guess this is mainly because of its simplicity and the fact that you can make it out of a number of different containers, which means it’s very inexpensive.  Any container will do, but one with a handle can make it easier.  After that all you need is a little bit of rope and some sticks.  The idea is that you fill the container with water, and then when you tip it over the water starts pouring out.  Then when you release the container it flips back into a position where the water does not pour out.  The tippy tap is operated by foot, and therefore, there is no need to touch it with your hands (there are tippy taps that you use your hands, but I would not recommend those).  The picture below shows just how simple the installation can be.  In this case, all you do is step on the stick and it pulls down the front of the jerry can and water starts pouring out.  Then, as you can see, when it is released the water stops.  Hang a bar of soap next to it and you’re all set.

You can find all the information you need about the Tippy Tap by clicking here.

Group Hand Washing Stations


Finally, I just wanted to talk briefly about group hand washing stations.  These are good for schools or places where communities meet.  The one shown below is very simple once you have the materials.  The idea is that you have a container of water up high, and a sloped pipe coming out of it.  The sloped pipe has holes drilled into the bottom of it every foot or so to let the water run out.  Then you have something to catch the water which is also sloped, and drains into a container so that the water can be disposed of or used for something else.  The most complicated thing is the ball valve up by the container holding the water that turns it on and off. This is a very simplified explanation, but it’s really not very complicated.

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Hand washing is one of the most important things that can be done to prevent the spread of diseases, and can save thousands of lives every year.  The hand washing stations written about in this article are only a few of what is out there, and all have their advantages and disadvantages.  When hand washing stations are coupled with education on why people should wash their hands, they can keep a lot of people healthy and happy.  I’ll leave you today with a fun video showing a hand washing station competition with some kids in Togo, Africa.  Hope you enjoyed this post, and don’t forget to wash you hands.

I always love to hear what people have to say so please leave a comment and let me know what you thought.  And if you have any hand washing stations you like please let me know.  Thanks for reading!



Demotech: Design for Self Reliance – A story about the coming into being of a device for washing hands in Maastricht’s Demotech Lab and in a little village in Ghana

Appropriate Design Choice – Handwash Assembly Instructions

Tippy Tap

Water and Sanitation Program – Group Washing Facility – Product Details

Fit for School

Unicef Television: Children exercise their ingenuity and protect their health building sanitary hand washing stations

How Do You Wash Your Hands? A Look at Simple Hand Washing Stations
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