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Do You Need a Barrier to Turn the Faucet On?

Skill: All

Question: Do you need a barrier to turn the faucet on?

Answer: It depends…are your hands clean, or dirty?


barrier and faucet image


Dirty hands (and gloves) can touch a dirty faucet all day long, but clean hands cannot (that’s when you need a barrier). When you begin a skill you must wash your hands prior to touching the patient. The faucet is ALWAYS considered dirty (we touch it with dirty hands after toileting).

At the beginning

So, if you are starting a skill, dirty hands can touch a dirty faucet…no problem! So, no barrier is needed to turn the faucet on. You will need one to turn it off, though, once your hands are clean.

At the end

If you are ending a skill after patient care and turning the faucet on to clean a basin or wash your hands, dirty hands can touch a dirty faucet…no problem! After cleaning supplies, you don’t need a barrier to turn the faucet off because your hands or gloves are still dirty.

In between

But this is where it gets tricky! If you have already washed your hands, gathered supplies and you are now filling a basin to use on the patient, you MUST use a barrier to turn the faucet on! Otherwise, clean hands touch dirty faucet and will then touch patient…PROBLEM! 🙂

Why can’t I use a barrier all the time?


Well, you can. But, it shows the evaluator that you have no idea about infection control standards. And this can put your patient at risk. If you aren’t aware of the basic clean/dirty concept, you can easily touch a contaminated object in the room and transfer that to the patient. Since patients are often sick, they are at risk of contracting ANOTHER illness…because of YOU!


Bottom line? Dirty hands can touch a dirty faucet…but clean hands can’t! Always stop and think about whether your hands are clean or dirty before touching the faucet. If in doubt, use a barrier!

Patricia Laramee, RN

Patricia Laramee is an RN and educator. She has authored the CNA Skills Made Easy program which includes books and videos, which are used by CNA programs throughout the country, and is currently working on several new textbooks and other projects. She has dedicated her career to providing high-quality educational resources that center on testing standards and best nursing practices. She lives in Florida with her husband and four-legged furry assistant.