Why Soap Kills Coronavirus. What His Achilles Heel Has COVID-19

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Mihai Andrei (ZME Science),

In the midst of a crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, more than ever readers need quality scientific information, presented clearly. Freedom opens today a series of collaborations with Romanian journalists from the publication ZME Science, an independent science journalism platform, made up of experts who usually report to the public advised abroad. They will write more articles every day in Freedom. based on the latest epidemic data and studies.


The virus membrane (highlighted by arrows) is vulnerable to soap water. Image: NIH.

On average we reach the face 20 times per hour

Of all the measures we can take against an infectious disease, hygiene is the most important. Generally, our skin holds most microbes outside the body, but we can facilitate the infection ourselves when we touch our mouth, eyes, or nose.

Every time we touch our face (and studies suggest that we touch our face over 20 times per hour), we risk transferring microbes from the hands into the body.

This is why we need to wash our hands as often as possible – in general, not just in a pandemic situation. In the case of coronavirus, however, it is even more important.

Most of the time, soap and water do not kill the microbes, they just remove them from the skin. It’s a simple but effective process, especially when we accumulate dirt or fat on our hands.

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But in this case, soap and water actually kill the coronavirus, not just remove it.

The reason has to do with the structure of the virus. SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is surrounded by a lipid (fat) membrane.

From a chemical point of view, the membrane is somewhat similar to the foam that forms when we wash our hands. The chemical bonds in this membrane are not very strong, and they can be replaced by substances in soapy water. Basically, soap water destroys the surrounding membrane without which the coronavirus cannot exist.

It is the same process by which the soap cleanses the skin of dirt and, fortunately, this makes the soap very strong against the coronavirus. It is an “Achilles heel” of the germ we can take advantage of to protect ourselves.

Alcohol-based disinfectants work in a similar way: they destroy the surrounding membrane of viruses. When there is no possibility to wash our hands we can use disinfectant and it is advisable to do this. It will be effective as long as it has an alcohol content of over 60% and we cover the entire surface of the hands (which is quite difficult in practice). But in the long run, soap is our best ally.

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We must not only wash our hands, but also clean the surfaces regularly.

In addition to washing our hands, it is very important to regularly clean the surfaces we touch often and which are exposed. For example, the phone is constantly in contact with our hands and face, and the microbes from the hands to the phone and from the phone to the face can be easily transferred.

The phone can also be cleaned with a mixture of soap and water, which is less corrosive than alcohol-based disinfectants.

In order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, it is important to avoid touching your face with your bare hands. Hands should be washed every time we arrive home, at work, or in a new environment, before each meal, and at regular intervals.

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For a virus-destroying wash:

  • Use plenty of soap and water;
  • Rub your palms until foam is abundant (clavicle);
  • Wash both sides of the palms;
  • Carefully rub between your fingers, using one hand to wash the other;
  • Wash the big toes and the inside of the palms separately;
  • Continue washing for at least 20 seconds;
  • Rinse with water;
  • Dry your hands, preferably with a towel, which can also be used to close the faucet before being thrown away.
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