For several weeks now we've all been hearing the guidance from the CDC, federal and local governments and other public health officials.
Wash your hands with soap and water
Frequently. For twenty seconds.
Is Soap Tough Enough Against Such A Nasty Virus as COVID-19?
We decided to publish this post, NOT to imply OUR soap is some sort of cure for anyone infected with the COVID-19 virus, (it's not a cure for anything. It's meant to cleanse, not cure)...we just thought we'd explain WHY the scientists are currently telling you to clean your hands of dirt, grease, bacteria and viruses; "plain soap and water works!" But only if you use it right.
Think of a scene from of Grey's Anatomy.
From the CDC
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold),
- Turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.
- Lather the backs of your hands,
- Between your fingers,
- And under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Now that you know the HOW, we're going to explain the chemistry of WHY you should use soap.
It's All About Supramolecular Chemistry
The really cool thing about the supramolecular chemistry of true soap is that it has the ability to mix oil and water.
- hydrophilic ('water-loving')
- hydrophobic ('water-hating').
Water and anything that will mix with water are called hydrophilic molecules. Oil and anything that will mix with oil are called hydrophobic molecules. When water and oil are mixed they separate because hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds just don't mix. A soap molecule has two different ends, one that is hydrophilic; a polar head that binds with water and the other that is hydrophobic; a non-polar hydrocarbon tail that binds with grease and oil.
The cleansing action of soap is determined by these polar and non-polar structures. The long hydrocarbon chain is non-polar and hydrophobic. It is repelled by water. The "salt" end of the soap molecule is ionic and hydrophilic. It's water soluble.
Soap doesn't kill viruses. It simply provides an effective and safe means of deactivating its protien to be lifted from the skn and rinsed then down the drain. Human skin produces a protective layer of natural oil on the top of the skin that's full of free fatty acids called the sebum. Sebum is good. It keeps the skin lubricated and protected from bacteria and viruses getting into the deeper skin layers. While it's a protective layer, it's also the layer where dirt, bacteria and microbes get trapped.
When oil (non-polar hydrocarbons) are mixed with a soap- water solution, the soap molecules work as a bridge between polar water molecules and non-polar oil molecules. Since soap molecules have both properties of non-polar and polar molecules the soap can act as an emulsifier. An emulsifier is capable of dispersing one liquid into another immiscible liquid. This means that while oil (which attracts dirt) doesn't naturally mix with water, soap can suspend oil/dirt in such a way that it can be removed.
As a person lathers up and begins he scrubbing action with the soap, the soap lather penetrates the sebum without stripping it, the hydrophobic end of the soap molecule latches onto the dirt and germs, lifting them up off the skin, suspending them in the lather making it possible to remove when you rinse. COVID-19 is an enveloped virus meaning it has an outer lipid membrane layer. The friction from the scrubbing for 20 seconds, the high pH and cleansing properties in the lather penetrates that outer lipid membrane layer. its "envelope" and its active protein. and it all goes down the drain when you rinse!
“They [soap molecules] act like crowbars and destabilize the whole system,” said Prof. Pall Thordarson, acting head of chemistry at the University of New South Wales. Essential proteins spill from the ruptured membranes into the surrounding water, killing the bacteria and rendering the viruses useless.
Should I Use Anti-bacterial Soap?
No. COVID-19 is a virus, not a bacteria. And as we wrote about here, the FDA has come out advising consumers not to use anti-bacterial soap because it assists in creating microbes that are increasingly immune to agents used to kill them. The cleansing action of soap is sufficient cleansing.
Is Liquid Soap More Sanitary? Doesnt Bar Soap Transfer Dirt and Germs to Family Members?
Not necessarily. The transfer starts with your hands. How often do you clean the surface or top of that liquid soap dispenser after you use it? Think about it. The first ingredient in most liquid soap is water so it will need a synthetic preservative to prevent germ growth.
Researchers with the NIH published a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Infection in which they inoculated the surface of soap bars with extra bacteria so that the bacterial count was 70 times that of a typical used soap bar and concluded there was no evidence of bacteria transfer from the soap to your hands.
"These findings, along with other published reports, show that little hazard exists in routine handwashing with previously used soap bars and support the frequent use of soap and water for handwashing to prevent the spread of disease."
There are other reasons why we think bar soap is better that we wrote about here.
What About Hand Sanitizers?
If you don't have the ability to frequently wash your hands with soap and water and are going to augment with a hand sanitizer, be sure it's an antimicrobial, not an antibacterial. Hand sanitizers containing 60-96% alcohol like ethanol, isopropanol or n-propanol can be effective antimicrobial agents in some circumstances. They denature and coagulate virus proteins making them effective against a wide range of bacteria and virus. They can also be very drying and, used frequently, can damage that sebum, making the skin dry, cracked and more prone to infection.
Soap cleanses the skin without stripping it. So frequent hand washing with soap and water is always better. We know that's not always possible.
So now you know the How and Why you should frequently wash your hands with soap and water. It's essential to your health!
We've also found the advice of singing Happy Birthday twice to become rather boring after a while. So LA Times compiled list of 10 songs that take about 20 seconds to sing while you scrub.
At Island Thyme Soap Company, our motto in these uncertain times is; "Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands!"
Most importantly, listen to the experts at CDC and your local healthcare providers as we work through this public health challenge.