How to clean hands

To Purchase this Sefer [1]

[Although it is necessary to wash one’s hands with water in order to remove the impurity that resides on the hands after some[2] of the above actions were performed nevertheless,] to be allowed to learn Torah and recite blessings it is not necessary to specifically wash the hands with water. Rather he may clean them with anything that cleans.[3] This applies even if one has water readily available in front of him, nevertheless he may clean them in other ways.[4] However prior to prayer one is required to wash his hands specifically with water.[5]


What items are valid to be used for cleaning?[6]

  • Rock
  • Earth
  • Beam
  • Wall
  • Cloth[7] [including one’s clothing or a towel]



How are the hands to be cleaned?[8]

One is to wipe clean both the front and back of the hand up until the wrist. [This applies even if only a small part of the hand became dirty.[9]] It is not necessary to clean the hands three times after touching the above areas.[10]


Must one clean/wash both hands if only one hand touched a dirty area?[11]

Some Poskim[12] rule one is only required to clean/wash the hand that touched the dirty area and not the other hand. Other Poskim[13] rule one is required to wash both hands [by actions that bring an evil spirit[14]]. Practically the main opinion follows the lenient opinion although one who is stringent [regarding those actions that bring the evil spirit], is blessed.


Can saliva be used to clean the hands?

Some Poskim[15] rule that saliva is valid for cleaning the hands after touching the above areas. Others[16] however rule that saliva is disgusting and even touching it requires the hands to be cleaned.


Washing hands prior to prayer:[17]

One is to wash his hands with water prior to all prayers. He is to travel for water for up to a mils distance.

[1] Basra 4/1; 7/1; 92/6; Siddur Seder Netila; M”B 4/61; 227/11

In 613/4 Admur allows washing with water even on Yom Kippur. This however does not mean to say that using water is an obligation, but rather simply that it is allowed. This also explains why he uses the word “permitted” and not “obligated” regarding this washing. However Tzaruch Iyun from Seder Birchas Hanehnin 13/17 where Admur rules that one who used the bathroom is required to wash his hands prior to saying the blessing over thunder and does not offer the ability to simply clean the hands on another item. The M”B 227/11 writes regarding that Halacha that one can  either wash his hands or clean them in another method, and so writes Piskeiy Teshuvos 227/8. Vetzaruch Iyun.

[2] All matters that were listed above in B that were not listed in Halacha 1 to cause impure spirit, do not cause it and one is hence not required to clean his hands specifically with water. With regards to touching mucus or wax of the ear, Admur does not mention them in the list of matters that require washing. [See Halacha 4P] Nevertheless if one touched the inside of his ear or nose it is considered as if he touched the normally covered areas of the body and hence washing to remove the impure spirit is required. [Piskeiy Teshuvos 4/29]

[3] For this reason, according to all opinions, when washing prior to learning or reciting a blessing one does not say a blessing on the washing. [Basra ibid]

[4] 92/6; Peri Megadim brought in M”B 4/61

[5] Basra 4/1

However even prior to prayer, if there is no water available, one may clean his hands with anything that cleans, as the verse does not specify a cleansing with using water. Nevertheless before prayer it’s a mitzvah/obligation to walk up to a mil’s distance [18-24 minutes] to find water. 

[6] Kama 1/3; 92/5

[7] Chayeh Adam 7/2; Kaf Hachaim 4/100

[8] P”M 4 M”Z 15; Kaf Hachaim 4/103; M”B 4/57

[9] Ketzos Hashulchan 2/11; Eretz Chemda brought in Kaf Hachaim 4/86; M”B 4/57

[10] As even when washing with water one is only required to wash one time after doing the actions listed in Halacha 5A. See Halacha 3 and Q&A.

[11] Kaf Hachaim  4/86

[12] Chayeh Adam 40/18; Admur in Seder Netilas Yadayim 17 regarding one who touched a covered area during a meal that he must only wash that hand [However Tzaruch Iyun if this can be used as a source as perhaps regarding removing the Ruach Raah washing both hands is required.]; Other Poskim listed in Kaf Hachaim ibid

[13] Yifei Laleiv 1/27; Leiv Chaim 2/7; There he concludes that so rules the Shlah Hakadosh and so is the custom of the world.

[14] See Halacha 1. All actions that are not listed there are not known to bring an evil spirit and hence would not require the cleaning of both hands according to any opinion.

[15] Ashel Avraham Butchach [Mahadurah Tinyana] 4; Mahrsham 3/14; Tiferes Adam brought in Toras Yekusiel 1/9;

[16] Minchas Elazar 3/54

[17] Basra 4/1; Kama 4/3; 7/1; 92/4-5; Siddur; It is beyond the scope of this topic to detail all the laws involved in washing prior to prayer. These laws will be elaborated, G-d willing, in our future publication on The Laws of Prayer.

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