With the coronavirus pandemic spreading more and more each day, many hand sanitizer shelves in the supermarkets are getting emptied as people keep panic-buying these nifty bottles. But, scientists and doctors say we shouldn’t overlook the humble bar of soap we use every day in favor of sanitizer. In this video, we explain why soap is so good at getting rid of coronavirus and compare it with hand sanitizers.
Since it was first invented in 2800 BCE in ancient Babylon, soap has kept us clean and protected us from many a disease. Soap is basically a salt of fatty acid that’s created when alkali salts like sodium or potassium hydroxide react with fatty acids at high temperatures. The workings of a soap molecule are a simple matter of surface chemistry. The soap molecule is a long chain with one end being hydrophilic, which means it is attracted to water. The other end is hydrophobic and is attracted to fats, dirt, and also the outer layers of many types of viruses and bacteria.
Take our recent culprit, the coronavirus for example. At its center is the RNA which is enveloped by a lipid bilayer. This layer consists of lipids, interspersed with other proteins and the virus’ characteristic spikes. But all these are held together by weak bonds. So, when you wash your hands, the hydrophobic ends of the soap molecules attach themselves to the lipids protecting the virus’ RNA and pull them apart, essentially killing the virus. All this takes 20 seconds of time to happen.
Hand sanitizers work the same way as a soap but using alcohol. Available in the form of liquids or gels, they contain 60 to 95% alcohol, and this concentration is considered most effective in killing the virus. If soap and water are not available to wash your hands, they are an amazing option to keep your hands sanitized. But the downside to it is, if your hands are already dirty, greasy, or sweaty, the sanitizer would get diluted and its efficiency will be diminished.
Another problem with using sanitizers is they are a potential fire hazard because of the high alcohol content. While some have moisturizing agents in them that prevent fire, going near an open fire or using the stove before the sanitizer is dry could lead to your hands catching fire.
When you wash your hands with soap, you rinse them with water. This washes off the debris of dead virus along with the soap molecules. This, however, doesn’t happen with sanitizer as the debris forms a layer on your hand along with the non-drying ingredients in the sanitizer. So, as long as you have access to soap and water, use them. The soap doesn’t need to be expensive, neither does it need to be antibacterial. Just any normal soap would do the job.
In the spirit of keeping our hands clean, here’s a quick instruction on how to do it. The proper way to scrub your hands with soap is to first wash them with water. Take enough soap and rub to lather it up in your palms, fingers, all the spaces in between your fingers, your knuckles, the back of your hand, and your nails. Do all this for at least 20 seconds, and if you can’t check your watch, just hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice, and you’re good.