Skip to content

Handwashing with Rufus

Title: "Rufus the Messy Monster”​
Audience: 5 year olds and under, their parents; primary-school and pre-school workers
Channels: Radio, Outdoor, Cinema, Direct Marketing, Digital, Social Media
Launch date: Phase 1: September 2017. Phase 2: September 2019, Phase 3: September 2020


An integrated awareness and education campaign to make learning about good handwashing habits fun for young children and help keep germs like Covid-19 and E.coli at bay.


The handwashing campaign was -developed in 2017 to target children aged between 2-5 and further in 2018 to include childcare professionals. Insights from research showed that while parents and childcare professionals understood that handwashing was important, they did not always consistently carry out the behaviour. The strategic approach was to educate parents and child-care providers about the risks of E.coli and provide them with the tools to teach children and make handwashing engaging and fun.

For the 2018-19 the handwashing campaign ‘Rufus the handwashing Hero’ focused on three distinct audiences: Pre-school care-givers; the children in their care; and their parents. A specific handwashing pack was developed to teach young children about handwashing through story, song and behavioural feedback. The resource also includes material for children to take home to parents to encourage the continuity of good handwashing habits and behaviours at home. 

In 2020, the outbreak of Covid-19 has elevated the importance of good handwashing practices with the public, to help reduce the spread of the virus. Teaching children good handwashing habits has become even more important than ever. 

Next phase:

For the September 2020 phase of the campaign, we will be extending the availability of the handwashing packs to all Primary Schools, specifically Primary 1/ Junior Infants classes. Rufus is a unique resource for this age group as it does not require literacy skills, and will be familiar to Junior Infants/Primary 1 from their pre-school year. The pack will also support the Social, Personal and Health Education element on the curriculum. We will also continue our focus with parents on Rufus’s key messages via the distribution of the handwashing sink posters through each setting that children can take home, and across digital advertising and social media. 


To communicate the importance of correct and regular handwashing, emphasising that children need to clean their hands for at least 20 seconds, and to dry their hands thoroughly. The aim is to make handwashing habits fun and to keep germs, including COVID-19 at bay. We want to highlight the key occasions when children should be washing their hands. These include, when they enter the home, before we eat, after play/pets and after using the toilet. 

Specific objectives:

•    Communicate correct and regular handwashing:

o    Emphasising that children need to clean their hands for at least 20 seconds, and dry their hands thoroughly
o    Making the audience aware that the best way to wash hands is with soap and water, but hand sanitisers are a reasonable option if you don’t have access
o    Teaching the 5 steps of handwashing, wet, soap, rub (for 20 seconds), rinse and dry
o    Outlining that hands should be washed often and regularly throughout the day, especially before eating, after playing outside, and after using the toilet 

•    Extend the reach of the campaign from the school and childcare setting to the home by asking teachers to encourage parents to continue good handwashing habits at home, as part of your school community commitment to keeping everyone safe and healthy.

Share the videos

Safefood Logo

Sign up for our family focused healthy eating and food safety news.

Safefood logo

The site content is redirecting to the NI version.