Why soap is your best ally for fighting viruses

I’ve been recently wondering how we can protect our households from coronavirus. Browsing some articles, I found it really interesting to read that conventional soap is the best option to avoid catching any type of virus and in the same time, avoid its spread around you. Here are some fact about viruses, in simplified chemistry to help you understand why soap is a perfect ally to introduce multiple times a day to fight against it.

soap is the best, but do please use alcohol-based sanitiser when soap is not handy or practical

Professor Pall Thordarson

(The below is paraphrased from this fantastic article on The Guardian website, written by Professor of Chemistry, Pall Thordarson). 

  • A virus is a self-assembled nanoparticle with three key components: the ribonucleic acid (genetic code), proteins and lipids. The weakest link forming the virus particle is its wall, which is composed of lipids (fatty). Conventional soaps can easily disrupt these walls and destroy the virus particles – it does not require the harsh chemicals found in sanitizers (though, of course, these work too!).
  • If you don’t use soap, these virus nanoparticles can infect your cells. If they find their way to our lungs, they cause the classic coronavirus symptoms of cough, fever, and sometimes other symptoms like breathlessness, or a runny nose. 
  • When you’re infected by a virus, your cough and sneezes propel minuscule droplets into the air up to 2-10 metres (so please cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough!). These settle on dry surfaces like the floors and the furniture and are invisible, but because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not harmful. The virus can survive on these surfaces for a few days, so you need to wash your hands often with soap especially once you’ve touched any potentially infected surfaces such as a park bench, cash from a supermarket, or even the door-handle when visiting a local store for essential supplies.
  • The skin is the perfect home for viruses because of it’s epidermis rich in proteins and fatty acids. Unfortunately the virus is usually transferred from your hand to your face rather quickly, as apparently you touch your face about once every 2 to 5 minutes ! Once on your face and in your mouth or nose, you run a significant risk of contracting the infection. Break this cycle by making sure to frequently wash your hands – it’s the most effective prevention available!

What is the role of soap in hand-washing ? 

Water alone is not enough to get rid of viruses, though it does wash off some. Water combined with soap is the way to do it. In the constitution of every soap, you find fatty substances (lipids) similar to that found in the virus wall (see picture above). Water & soap combined have two effects; 

  1. detach the virus from the skin
  2. breaks the interactions of the protein, lipid and ribonucleic acid forming the wall of the virus particle. 

Soap vs. alcohol-based products 

The alcohol-based gel that you find in stores are effective in killing viruses because they contain a high-percentage alcohol solution that is toxic to the viruses, but when you use it on your hands, you usually don’t cover every corner of the hand skin and it becomes less effective. Another bad side of using those gel is that it’s very harsh on the skin and sometimes causes irritation and dryness. 

Soap is a great alternative – it does really work and is not associated with the irritation and dryness caused by alcohol based products. With a small amount of soap and water, you can cover both of your hands entirely and get rid of the viruses by not forgetting any corner and rinsing properly. The soap is also very soft for the skin compared to alcohol and does smell a lot better ! 

Happy washing !

This article was inspired by content from an article in the ‘’ The Guardian ‘’ written by Pall Thordarson, professor of chemistry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, which can be found here; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/12/science-soap-kills-coronavirus-alcohol-based-disinfectants

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