Apple Watch Handwashing feature, here’s what you should know

Apple Watch Handwashing feature

One of the most relevant feature introductions from Apple in these days and times is the Hand Washing app on the Apple Watch. With watchOS 7, Apple Watch automatically detects when you begin washing and helps you keep going for the amount of time recommended by global health organizations.

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How does this handwashing feature work on my Apple Watch?

Apple Watch is able to automatically detect when you start hand washing using its motions sensors and microphone and intuitively launches a 20-second timer. Apple Watch Handwashing feature

Your Apple Watch listens for the sound of soap and water running to determine whether or not you are washing your hands. If the watch also senses hand washing motions (rubbing your hands together), then it assumes you are washing your hands.

Once detected, it starts a 20-second timer encouraging you to wash your hands for a full 20 seconds. If you stop washing too early, your Apple Watch nudges you with an on-screen alert to finish for a full 20 seconds.

Once you finish washing your hands, your watch sends that data to your iPhone’s Health app and logs the time you washed your hands in the Health app’s Other Data section. Health app iPhone and hand washing information from Apple Watch

After this, it logs the full time you were washing your hands even if it was longer than 20 seconds to the Health app in the “Other Data” section.

Additionally, your Apple Watch can automatically remind you to wash your hands each time you get home.

Does my Apple Watch support the Handwashing feature?

The new Hand Washing feature is only available for users who own a Series 4 or higher Apple Watch model. That’s due to the Series 4 and above advanced microphone and ambient sound detection.

If you have an Apple Watch Series 3 model or older, you are out of luck.

That being said, there are alternative timer-based third-party apps that you can evaluate for this feature for your older Apple Watch

Why doesn’t handwashing work on the Apple Watch Series 3?

It’s a bit confusing that you can upgrade your Apple Watch Series 3 to watchOS 7, but you cannot get the handwashing feature to activate and work on it!

The reason handwashing is not available for the Series 3 Watch is that this model does not feature the ambient sound detection technology and hardware that the Series 4 and above offer.

Lack of this technology is also why the Noise app is not available for Series 3 Apple Watches.

How do you activate handwashing on Apple Watch?

All you need to do is turn the setting on and then go wash your hands!

Once you turn on the setting for handwashing following the steps below, your watch automatically detects when you are engaging in activities it determines as handwashing.

It listens for the sounds of water running in combination with hand and arm motions that indicate you are rubbing your hands together.

How to enable or disable Handwashing feature on your Apple Watch

You can turn on (or off) the Apple Hand Washing feature via your Apple Watch settings app or your iPhone’s Watch app with watchOS 7 and above and Apple Watch Series 4 and above.

  1. On your Apple Watch, begin with launching the Settings App apple watch settings app
  2. Now scroll down your Apple Watch Settings and tap Handwashing

    force restart an apple watch
    How to perform a forced restart on your Apple Watch. Don’t worry, you do NOT lose any data when trying a forced restart
  3. Toggle on the Handwashing Timer (20 seconds default length) and Handwashing Remindershand washing timer and reminder for apple watch
    1. If you cannot turn on Handwashing Reminders, open your paired iPhone’s Watch app and toggle it on there

How to enable or disable the Apple Watch Handwashing feature on your paired iPhone

  1. On your paired iPhone, go to the Watch app and choose the My Watch tab 
  2. Scroll down and tap Handwashing apple watch hand washing feature on iPhone's Watch app
  3. Toggle on Handwashing Timer and Handwashing Reminders
    1. If asked, allow Handwashing to use your location and choose the option to Allow While Using App
    2. Handwashing Reminders won’t work if you choose Don’t Allow or Allow Once hand washing settings for notifications, reminders, and timers in Watch app for Apple Watch and iPhone
  4. Set your preferred notification status–we recommend either Allow Notifications or Send to Notification Center so you receive these alerts

Now that you have set up the Handwashing feature on your Apple Watch, go ahead and give it a try! Get some soap and start handwashing.

Turn on the tap and splash!

When you are lathering on the soap on your hands by the basin, the watch does not detect the activity because it does not hear the sounds of splashing water on your hands.

Once you turn on the tap and start rubbing your hands underneath the water, you hear and feel via your watch’s haptics an alert from your watch, indicating that it has recognized the handwashing activity based on the motion AND sounds and switches on the automatic 20-second timer.

As you continue washing your hands, you feel haptic feedback and see the timer countdown on the watch’s display. If you stop too soon, you may see a notification on your watch. apple watch hand washing alert

When you complete the full 20-seconds (or more,) your Apple Watch countdown timer let’s you know with a “Well Done” or thumbs up message. hand washing well done or thumbs up message on Apple Watch

Don’t like the Apple Watch hand washing feature?

You can turn off the Handwashing feature on your Apple Watch via the Settings app.

  • Tap on Handwashing in the Apple Watch’s Settings app or in your paired iPhone’s Watch app
  • Toggle off Handwashing Timer and Handwashing Reminders
  • Set your notification setting to Notifications OffTurn off hand washing feature on Apple Watch

Handwashing feature not working on Apple Watch?

Check your watchOS and your Series model

As we mentioned earlier, this feature is only available on Apple Watch Series 4 and higher models. And the watch must use watchOS 7 or above.

So if you are using Apple Watch Series 3 or older models, you will not be able to locate the feature on the Settings app on your Apple Watch.

The reason for this from what we understand is that the feature requires complex machine learning algorithms to detect motion and ambient sound via the microphone and that requires the higher processing power of a Series 4 or higher.

Toggle on your handwashing settings

The biggest reason that the Handwashing feature is not working on your Apple Watch is that you may not have turned on the Timer.

  1. In Settings > Handwashing on your Apple Watch or the Watch app > Handwashing on your paired iPhone, make sure you have the Timer switch turned on
  2. Try restarting your Apple Watch, check the settings again, and then attempt handwashing
  3. Check that you turned significant locations on your iPhone’s location services for system settings
    1. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Scroll all the way down to System Services and toggle on Significant Locations (if it’s already on, toggle it off, wait 20 seconds, and toggle it back on) iPhone significant location services settings
    2. Then, return to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and this time scroll and tap Handwashing. Set Allow Location Access to Always and toggle on Precise Location location services settings on iPhone for Apple Watch hand washing feature
    3. Restart your phone and watch and see if you can now enable the Handwashing feature and its reminders (if desired)

Please note that the feature kicks in once you open the tap and start washing, not when you are applying soap on your hands with the tap shut off.

Apple watch not recognizing you washing your hands?

Try restarting your watch. Then try again to wash your hands.

Sometimes, it takes the watch a few seconds to recognize you are washing your hands. The on-board intelligence uses data from both the motion sensors AND the microphone to detect you are actively washing your hands.

Turning up the water flowing from your tap and energetically scrub your hands under the tap–so the watch’s accelerometer detects a handwashing motion and hears the sound of water running from the tap.

force restart an apple watch
How to perform a forced restart on your Apple Watch. Don’t worry, you do NOT lose any data when doing a forced restart

If it’s still not activating handwashing, try a forced restart on your Apple Watch. Press and hold the Digital Crown and the Side buttons together until the Apple Logo appears on-screen, then release.

Do you use a case or screen protector on your Apple Watch?

Sometimes, third-party screen protectors and in particular, Apple Watch cases interfere with your watch’s signaling that you are washing your hands. Try removing the case (or screen protector) and see if this makes a difference.

Apple Watch stuck on the handwashing countdown? hand washing countdown on Apple Watch

Quite a few folks discovered that their watches got stuck on during the handwash countdown timer while they were washing their hands.

To work, your watch must detect both the motions and sounds of handwashing

Getting stuck on a the countdown usually occurs when the watch no longer hears the sound of running water or when your hand motions change to something the watch does not detect as handwashing.

Try rubbing your hands more rigorously and either turn up the water flow from the tap or move your hands closer to the tap.

Not getting reminders on your Apple Watch for handwashing? Apple Watch time to wash your hands hand washing reminder

If you aren’t getting reminders, check that you have a home address listed in your Contacts app for yourself (My Card)

You need to enter your home address in the Contacts app for home handwashing reminder functionality!

Make sure that location services are enabled on your Apple Watch and iPhone and your contact has your address information.

  1. Use your iPhone or Mac and enter in the address information for your contact details
  2. Open Contacts App on your iPhone and tap on your name at the top (My CardMy Card in the Contacts app on iPhone
  3. Tap on Edit at the top right and scroll down and tap on ‘Add address’
  4. Enter your Street, City, state and Zip code details and tap Done

When you go and review the contact details, it should show a little map with a pin on next to your address.

Where is the Handwashing app on my iPhone?

The new Apple Watch handwashing feature is only available on your Apple Watch. It is not currently an option on the iPhone–except to access settings within the Watch app.

When you open up your iPhone and navigate to My Watch section in the Watch app, although you find ‘handwashing’ related settings here, these do not send notifications directly to your iPhone.

How often should I wash my hands?

As per CDC guidelines, Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.

Key times to clean hands include: Before, during, and after preparing food. Before eating food. After using the toilet. After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Wrap up

In summary, given that this is the first beta for the watchOS 7, the handwashing feature on Apple Watch works pretty well.

Once you enable the feature, you don’t have to remember anything. As soon as you start washing your hands, your Apple Watch automatically jumps into action and guides you through this simple and yet very important activity.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. What are some of the new watchOS features that you are excited about?

As an Amazon Associate MyHealthyApple may earn commissions from qualifying purchases using our links

9 COMMENTS

  1. My Apple Watch 5 settings only shows option to turn on feature but dies not work. My iPhone 7 shows only the option to get notifications but lacks the option to turn on the feature. That’s not working either???

    • Hi Kay,

      It may be that your phone has significant locations disabled.

      Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Scroll all the way down to System Services and toggle on Significant Locations (if it’s already on, toggle it off, wait 20 seconds, and toggle it back on).

      Then, return to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and this time scroll and tap Handwashing. Set Allow Location Access to Always and toggle on Precise Location.

      Restart your phone and watch and see if you can now enable the Handwashing feature and its reminders (if desired.)

      Let us know the results!

    • Hi Rob,

      Yes, cases can make it more difficult for the watch to recognize handwashing. As a test, try removing the case and see if it works–if not, let us know.

  2. Hand washing timer does not work on my phon my watch either. I don’t have any screen protectors or cases. I’ve restarted they watch. I’ve made sure the locations was set to always. My water is loud when it comes out of the faucet and my timer will not come on.

    • Hi Melissa,

      Sorry, this feature isn’t working for you. It sounds like you’ve tried almost everything to get it working. If you are comfortable doing so, try unpairing your watch from your iPhone (which automatically backups up all your data) and then re-pair it and restore that recent backup. While this process is time-consuming (not to mention a pain in the you know what), it has worked for others.

    • Hi Mike,

      Sadly no, at this time you cannot adjust the length of the handwashing timer for your Apple Watch. But it’s a great idea!

      Please consider submitting your feedback to Apple for this additional handwashing option for Apple Watch.

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