Do Soaps Kill Coronavirus?

We can have chemical showers (please don’t), douse our hand in alcohol (still not a great idea) or just simply use a normal bar of soap to kill the coronavirus. But how does plain, boring soap fair against other forms of disinfecting and essentially killing the coronavirus? It can’t possibly work, can it?

Why Even Bother Washing?

Before we dissect any our main question, it is worth asking, is there even a point of washing our hands? We have around 1500 bacteria living in each square centimetre of skin on our hands. Gross, but we manage just ok-ish. The problem with the coronavirus is that if it is already on our hands, then we can become infected by touching our eyes, mouth and nose. The solution would then just be not to touch our faces, right? Easier said than done. In 2015, a study found that we touch our faces an average of 23 times an hour . If we do have the virus on our hands, then it has plenty of opportunities to infect us. Should we bother with washing our hands? Absolutely!

How Effective Are Hand Sanitisers?

When we want to ensure we are "germ free", we often resort to using hand sanitisers. The clue is in the name, sanities - to clean and disinfect. It seems like an obvious choice to make. But you will soon learn that these are not as effective at killing coronavirus and other germs as soap.

Firstly, not all hand sanitisers are the same. There are two types of hand sanitisers, alcohol based and alcohol free. Alcohol free hand sanitisers use something called quaternary ammonium compounds instead of alcohol. That is a bit of mouthful, but they are ingredients such as benzalkonium chloride found in the ingredients. They are still able to kill germs on your hands, but they just aren’t as effective as alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

Alcohol based hand sanitisers too come in varying types, often varying on the amounts of alcohol they contain. The alcohol kills coronavirus by attacking the envelope protein surrounding the virus. But in order for hand sanitisers to be effective, we need to ensure that the sanitisers we use include at least 60% alcohol . Otherwise, rather than killing the virus, we might only just reduce the growth of germs . That would mean that the virus is still on our hands ready to infect us.

How Does the Coronavirus Protect Itself?

If we sneeze or cough into our hands for example, using a hand sanitiser simply might not be enough. The term "killing 99.9% of all bacteria" we often see on labels sounds great, but that only works if the chemical or substance can actually reach those germs it is trying to kill. When we cover our nose and mouth to catch a sneeze or cough, we contaminate our hands with mucus.

Mucus in our body generally protects us from germs by creating a protective layer and stopping germs for reaching our cells. This is great news when it’s serving its purpose inside our body, but outside, it can also provide a protective layer to germs already on our hands. Where most hospitals have introduced ethanol-based (a type of alcohol) hand sanitisers, research has found that these sanitisers are not effective as we previously thought they would be . So, unless the sanitisers can penetrate the mucus, the virus and other germs on hands are just going to sit tight, waiting for the opportunity to infect us.

If hand sanitisers are not as effective, then what is the best way to kill germs on your hands? We’re not about to suggest chopping off your hands. Though that would work, we would argue that our hands are pretty useful tools. Instead, we recommend using soap to kill germs on our hands.

Specifically, the coronavirus is one that knows how to protect itself and is somewhat resilient in its efforts to infect us. The virus is sticky and is good at clinging to our hands. Part of the virus is also hydrophobic (hates water). This means that when we wash our hands with just water, part of the virus works to repel the water and continue to stick to our hands. Think of it as having oily hands. When we have oily hands, washing it with water just isn’t enough to get rid of that slimy, oily feeling. To get rid of that oily feeling, we don’t go off looking for the nearest hand sanitiser, instead we use soap.

How Does Soap Kill The Coronavirus?

As the coronavirus actively repels water, it does behave somewhat like greasy oils on our hands. When we wash oily hands, it never gets rid of all the oils.

But when we wash our hands with soap, the oils stuck to our hands become attracted to the soap molecules. This attraction pulls the oils away from our hands allowing it to be washed off with running water. Soap works in the same way with coronavirus where the virus is strongly attracted to the molecules in soap. This attraction to soap allows the virus to be broken apart and dissolved into the running water. It is during this process that the virus is killed (well, becomes inactive as viruses aren't really alive) and washed away.

This makes handwashing with soap very effective at killing the coronavirus. Washing your hands with soaps is more effective at killing coronavirus than using hand sanitiser.

Hand sanitisers generally may not be all that effective when our hands are visibly dirty or greasy either. In such cases, we should always soap to have remove the dirt and grease.

Aside from just the coronavirus, soap is effective at killing other germs. Where alcohol based hand sanitisers can quickly reduce the number of germs on our hands, they do not kill all types of germs. Soap on the other hand, is more effective than hand sanitisers at killing specific kinds of germs and parasites such as Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile .

This is not to say that hand sanitiser is useless of course. There are many occasions where washing your hands with soap simply is not practical and so in such cases you should use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol. But when given the chance, you should always choose to wash your hands with soap rather than just use hand sanitisers. This is the most effective way kill the coronavirus and other germs living on the skin of your hands. So, the next time you consider ordering hand sanitisers to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, buy some soaps as well. To nudge you in the right direction, check out our latest products that smell amazing, and of course will help us fend off the coronavirus.

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