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Explained: How Washing Your Hands With Soap Kills COVID-19

How does soap work to kill coronavirus? We wash our hands to kill the coronavirus. with soap, antibacterial soap, hand sanitiser - but how does it destroy it?
Zahrah A
14 April 2020

As we have all been recommended countless times, we should wash our hands often with soap to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. But how does it work? Read on to find out:

A virus, like Covid-19, is material that is surrounded by a coating of proteins - and fat. When you simply rinse your hands with water, it isn't effective as the water just rushes past the virus. The layer of fat on the virus makes it behave like a drop of oil.

Suppose you have a glass of water. When you pour oil (liquid fat) in, the oil floats. The water and oil do not mix. However, when you add soap to the water-oil mixture and mix it, you'll find that the oil dissolves into the water.

Let's Get Chemical

Soap itself has two-sided molecules. One side of the molecule is attracted to water whereas the other side is attracted to fat. When these molecules are mixed with both water and fat, the attraction pulls the fat apart. They surround the oil particles and disperse them throughout the water.

soap against covid-19

Back to the Virus

The layer of fat in viruses (including Covid-19) holds everything within the cell. When soap is added to the fat, soap pulls the fat apart from the cell. It demolishes the viruses. The water then rinses the harmless virus particles down the drain. This process, however, takes time. 20 seconds to be specific.

What About Hand Sanitisers

Hand sanitisers work because they're mainly made of alcohol. As well as this, it's because of the fact that alcohol works similarly to soap to break down the fatty layer in viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend you to use sanitisers with at least 60 percent alcohol. Quite a high concentration. Additionally, the CDC advises you to use soap if you can despite using alcohol. This is because if your hands are dirty or sweaty, the alcohol could become dilute so it won't be as effective.

Anti-bacterial Soap?

Any type works. You don't even need one that is marketed as antibacterial. As well as this, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that there's no proof that suggests that antibacterial soap is more effective than the regular version.

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