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Hand sanitiser vs soap and water for killing coronavirus

20th April 2020

According to the World Health Organization, the best way of protecting yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19 is by practicing good hygiene and physical distancing. The novel coronavirus is transmitted through droplets that expelled by someone who is already infected, including touching the surfaces that a sick person may have already touched. Since most of the public cannot isolate themselves entirely, the final barrier between them and the disease is proper hand hygiene.

Hand sanitisers and soap can stop the coronavirus provided that they are applied to the hands thoroughly and scrubbed for at least 20 seconds. In case you are already infected, no amount of hand sanitiser, soap, or surface disinfectants will benefit you in terms of preventing sickness. However, it will help keep your chances of infecting others down if you follow strict hygiene regimen. Good hygiene can still help those who are around you.

Soap and coronavirus

The term coronavirus has been coined from the term "corona," which surrounds the virus. These are protein spikes that are attached to its surface. The spikes are the ones that are responsible for infecting their host. They are attached to a membrane, which is the shell of the virus and its weakest point.

Any kind of soap will protect you. You'll find different varieties and brands in your local store. It is not necessary to find special "antibacterial" soap (the coronavirus is not a bacteria). All soaps work well against the virus.

Soap molecules are comprised of two chemically unique parts, which are the hydrophobic tail and the hydrophilic head. The head will help the soap mix with water. Meanwhile, the train could react with other hydrophobic molecules such as lipids.

Lipids are a type of biological molecule that includes fats and oils. Fortunately, the membrane of the coronavirus is made up mostly of lipids. They are linked together by weak chemicals between the different molecules.

Scientists think that the soap's tail, which loves water, could possibly disrupt the weak interactions that are taking place between the lipid molecules within the membrane and tear it apart. In case the virus is torn up before it has successfully sheltered in the host cell, it won't be able to do its infectious job.

So why does soap work so well on the Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus and indeed most viruses? The short story: because the virus is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer. Soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and dies – or rather, we should say it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive.

Soap molecules then surround the fragments of the virus with all tails facing it's interior. This cluster is now referred to as a micelle. The hydrophilic heads that face outward let the micelle to be washed away together with the water.

The exact same lipids that cover the virus in a membrane will also cause it to attach to the oil in your skin. Washing your hands using soap will help weaken the interaction. The virus particles are washed away. But it doesn't work if you use water only.

Choosing a hand sanitiser

The World Health Organization and other health agencies recommend the use of alcohol based hand sanitisers to get rid of the virus in case you don't have any soap on hand. Hand sanitisers may contain n-propanol, isopropanol, ethanol, or a mix of these three alcohols. They are all effective in getting rid of lipid enclosed viruses such as the novel coronavirus.

Hand sanitisers that contain alcohol are believed to work by stopping the microbes' proteins, like some viruses and bacteria, from doing their normal functions. Hand sanitisers that have high alcohol content may also interfere with the lipid shell that surrounds the novel coronavirus.

The alcohol type of hand sanitisers can only be effective if they contain at least 60% alcohol. For some researchers, hand sanitisers with more than 75% alcohol are preferred. The water included in the sanitizer will prevent the alcohol from evaporating too fast, which lets the virus be saturated.

If you prefer a non-alcohol sanitiser, consider using Sursol hand sanitiser. It has been clinically tested to kill Swine Flu, H1N1, Bird Flu H5N1, MRSA, and the active ingredients have also tested positive for killing SARS (a strain of Coronavirus) and Norovirus.

What is the best option?

The best option is the one you will use. If convenient, hand washing is preferred. It is difficult to have continual access to soap and water, however, especially if you are at work or in transit. If washing your hands is not an option, hand sanitisers (either alcohol or non-alcohol), that are proven to kill viruses are a great option.

Washing your hands with water and soap is an effective way of killing the virus. When you rub your hands together, it creates friction. Drying them after helps in the elimination of virus particles on your skin. The novel coronavirus is good at hiding in pores like those found in your skin and surfaces such as wood. Whether you are using hand sanitisers or soap, it's crucial to rub your hands together to create a lather for a minimum of 20 seconds as you wash them.