How Soap Can Help Stop COVID-19

A Key COVID-19 Defense is in Your Hands!

The United States in currently facing one of the largest health pandemics in modern history. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been spreading rapidly throughout a large part of the world over the last few months. With all this happening so quickly, many people are wondering how to stay protected. One of the simplest ways to do your part in stopping this virus is to use soap!


Why Does Soap Work?

People typically think of soap as gentle and soothing, but from the perspective of microorganisms, it is often extremely destructive. A drop of ordinary soap diluted in water is sufficient to rupture and kill many types of bacteria and viruses, including the new coronavirus that is currently circling the globe.

Professor Pall Thordarson, acting head of chemistry at the University of New South Wales describes the way soap removes unwanted bacteria by saying, “It acts like a crowbar and destabilizes the whole system”. Soap molecules disrupt the chemical bonds that allow bacteria, viruses and grime to stick to surfaces, lifting them off the skin and killing the bacteria.

Soap is made of pin-shaped molecules. The “head” of the molecule bonds with water, while the “tail” of the molecule avoids water and prefers to link up with oils and fats.
When soap is added to water, the molecules float about and interact with other molecules in the solution. This interaction causes them to assemble themselves into little bubbles called micelles, with heads pointing outward and tails tucked inside.
How Does That Help Stop COVID-19?
Some bacteria and viruses have what are known as “lipid membranes”. These membranes resemble double-layered micelles with two bands of tails sandwiched between two rings of heads. Pathogens wrapped in lipid membranes include coronaviruses, H.I.V., the viruses that cause hepatitis B and C, herpes, Ebola, Zika, dengue, and numerous bacteria that attack the intestines and respiratory tract.
These lipid membranes are studded with important proteins that allow viruses to infect cells and perform vital tasks that keep bacteria alive. The membranes are important for the pathogens, and bad for us.
So when you wash your hands with soap and water, you surround any organisms on your skin with soap molecules. The tails of the soap molecules attempt to avoid water. In doing so, soap molecules force themselves into the lipid envelopes of microbes like the Coronavirus, prying them apart helping to clean your hands.

Soruce: Jabar, Ferris. (2020).


Not All Hand Hygiene is Created Equal

Hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent ethanol act similarly to washing with soap and water, but this should not be your first response against removing unwanted hazards from your skin. Sanitizers work by defeating bacteria and viruses by destabilizing their lipid membranes, but they cannot easily remove microorganisms from the skin like soap and water can. Use sanitizers when soap and water is not readily available.


It’s Not Just the Product: It’s The Process 

Washing with soap and water is one of the key public health practices that can significantly slow the rate of a pandemic and limit the number of infections, preventing a disastrous overburdening of hospitals and clinics. But the technique works only if everyone washes their hands frequently and with the correct technique. See below for a great video from John Hopkins Medical showcasing the proper way to wash hands as well as a handy reminder chart from us!

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