How soap kills the coronavirus

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You’ve been told the same thing a million times: The best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands.

Soap molecules attack a splotch of grease.
 Brookhaven National Lab

It’s true. But why?

It’s because soap — regular soap, fancy honeysuckle soap, artisan soap, just any soap — absolutely annihilates viruses. It has to do with how the soap molecules interact with the virus.

Soap is made up of two-sided molecules. One side is attracted to water; the other side is attracted to fat. And viruses are made up of material surrounded by a coating of proteins and fat. When viruses interact with soap, that fat coating gets ripped out by the soap molecules. Soap literally demolishes viruses.

Of course, it takes time for this effect to happen: 20 seconds, to be specific. 

Watch the video above to learn how this process works or  READ THE FOLLOWING FROM

senior science reporter Brian Resnick.

As Covid-19 cases in the US surge to more than 9000 and fear sweeps the country, there’s one consumer product critical to our great national battle to “flatten the curve,” or slow the epidemic: soap. Humble, ancient, cheap, effective soap. 

Respiratory viruses — like the novel coronavirus, the flu, and the common cold — can be spread via our hands. If someone is sick, a hand can touch some mucus and viral particles will stick to the hand. If someone is well, hands act like sticky traps for viruses. We can pick up droplets that contain the virus, and they’ll stay on our hands, and perhaps enter our bodies if we touch our hands to our faces.

That’s why our hands are the front lines in the war against Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands with soap and water as the top way to clean our hands. “But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help,” the CDC says.

The CDC prioritizes soap. Yet, per news reports, people have been stocking up and hoarding sanitizer. The sanitizer situation is growing absurd: The Atlantic reported on a man who sold a bottle of Purell on eBay for $138. Hand sanitizer containing over 60 percent alcohol works against Covid-19 and is a good option when you’re not near a sink. But it’s getting harder to find than a hypodermic needle in a haystack. 

Sanitizer might feel like a modern-day, scientific, and more clinical upgrade to soap. But I’m here to tell you that soap — all sorts of it: liquid, solid, honeysuckle-scented, the versions inexplicably only marketed to men or women — is a badass, and even more routinely effective than hand sanitizer. We should be excited to use it, as much as possible.

That’s because when you wash your hands with soap and water, you’re not just wiping viruses off your hands and sending them down the drain. You’re actually annihilating the viruses, rendering them harmless. Soap “is almost like a demolition team breaking down a building and taking all the bricks away,” says Palli Thordarson, a chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales, who posted a viral Twitter thread on the wonders of soap. 

In a recent phone call, he explained why soap is such an effective Covid-19 killer and why it’s so important to soap your hands for at least 20 seconds.

First up: What is soap? 

Soap, Thordarson explains, is common phrase for what chemists call “amphiphiles.” These are molecules that have a dual nature. One end of the molecule is attracted to water and repelled by fats and proteins. The other side of the molecule is attracted to fats and is repelled by water. (If you’re looking out for product labels, the most common soap is “sodium laureth sulfate” — it’s a detergent that’s often mixed with other chemicals to both clean our hands and not damage our skin.)

It’s this dual-nature chemical construction that makes soap so effective. “When you buy a conventional soap, it consists of a mixture of these amphiphiles,” Thordarson explains. And they all do the same thing. 

Think about what happens when you pour some olive oil into water. The oil pools up in a mass that floats. “That’s because fats don’t mix with water,” he says. But mix some soap into the oil and water and the oil will disperse. Basically, that happens because the soap is attracted to the grease, via its fat-loving side, but then tears it up, pulling it into the water via its water-loving side. It’s a one-two punch. Surround the oil particles and move them away from one another.

Now, lucky for us, coronaviruses are a bit like the oil mentioned in the above example: bits of genetic information — encoded by RNA — surrounded by a coat of fat and protein. Thordarson likes to call viruses “nano-sized grease balls.” And grease balls, no matter the size, are the exact type of thing soap loves to annihilate.

How soap destroys viruses

The soap takes care of the virus much like it takes care of the oil in the water. “It’s almost like a crowbar; it starts to pull all the things apart,” Thordarson says. 

One side of the soap molecule (the one that’s attracted to fat and repelled by water) buries its way into the virus’s fat and protein shell. Fortunately, the chemical bonds holding the virus together aren’t very strong, so this intrusion is enough to break the virus’s coat. “You pull the virus apart, you make it soluble in water, and it disintegrates,” he says.

Then the harmless shards of virus get flushed down the drain. And even if it the soap doesn’t destroy every virus, you’ll still rid them from your hands with soap and water, as well as any grease or dirt they may be clinging to. Soap will also wash away bacteria and other viruses that may be a bit tougher than coronavirus, and harder to disintegrate.

The trick is this all takes a little time to happen, and that’s why you need to take at least 20 seconds to wash your hands. 

First off, your skin is wrinkly, and it takes time for soap to penetrate into all the tiny folds and demolish the viruses that lurk within. Then the soap needs a few moments to do its chemical work. “You do need a bit of time for all the soap to interact back and forth with the virus particle,” he says. Twenty seconds should do the trick just fine. 

Alcohol, the main ingredient in hand sanitizer, can destroy viruses, too. Sanitizers “actually work in a similar way, the alcohol molecules are somewhat amphiphiles,” he says. The thing is, you need a very high concentration of alcohol to achieve the same effect. (Chemicals called quaternary ammonium compounds — the main ingredient in Lysol — kill viruses too but can be a bit harsher on the skin.)

The CDC recommends a sanitizer that’s 60 percent alcohol, so beware of sanitizers or wipes on the market that don’t meet this standard (or contain alcohol at all). Hand sanitizer is useful, but it can fail in un-ideal situations. If your hands are wet or sweaty when you use the sanitizer, that can dilute it and diminish its effectiveness. Also, sanitizer doesn’t clean your hands of sticky grease to which viruses can also adhere. 

“Soap doesn’t really fail easily,” Thordarson says. It doesn’t really matter the formulation of soap, either. You don’t need “antibacterial soap” — which the Food and Drug Administration advises to skip altogether due to a lack of evidence of its usefulness. And you don’t need a super-harsh detergent like you’d put in your dishwasher or laundry machine. Simple soap works fine. “As long as you give it a little bit of time, it will do its job.” 

All of this, at least, makes me excited to wash my hand more. As I’m washing with soap and water and counting to 20, I’m going to imagine a battle being waged on the nano-scale in the teeny-tiny folds of my skin. The soap is charging in, sticking to viruses (as well as dirt and other grease), and tearing them apart in brutal, heroic fashion. It’s almost like the Avengers, but better. Because it’s real. And it can help stop the spread of this outbreak.

VOX

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6 responses to “How soap kills the coronavirus”

  1. Ilia Buchman March 25, 2020, 12:43

    Anonymous March 23, 2020, 22:11

    Coronavirus pandemic and treatment options
    I
    am a doctor in Israel since 1973. I am 78 years old, received a medical
    education in Odessa Medina in 1966. My specialization is orthopedics,
    and for many years, until retirement, I successfully worked on it. At
    the same time, I was simultaneously engaged in family medicine, in
    particular, I lived and served as a kibbutz doctor. And yet, for 3-4
    weeks each year for 20 years, he served in Tsakhal as a doctor in parts
    in the reserve service. Therefore, my experience is rich in the
    treatment of viral diseases of the upper respiratory tract, different
    strains and different variations of viral flu. In the last year, quite
    by accident and unintentionally, I gained positive personal experience,
    and maybe even came to an accidental, but useful medical “find”. I
    managed to eliminate my own viral disease of the upper respiratory tract
    quickly and easily. To do this, I happened to rinse my mouth and
    nasopharynx, and simply drink a solution of high acidity. How did it
    happen? Once, six months ago, long before the start of the Coronovirus
    epidemic, I woke up in the morning, feeling burning, dryness and sore
    throat. A dry, sputum-free, harassing cough began. I knew these
    conditions well. They have always been a foretaste for me, the aura of
    the onset of the viral illness of the UDV or the flu, which usually
    developed in three to four weeks of malaise, often ending with a weekly
    course of antibiotics from the ampicillin group. This time, six months
    ago, the sensation in my throat was so disgusting that I decided to
    somehow soften it, relieve it. I made juice from half a lemon, sweetened
    it with a half-spoon of honey and drank it. It was completely
    unexpected for me that literally after 4-5 hours the pain and burning
    sensation simply disappeared and did not return as if they were not
    there before at all. Those. the onset of the disease simply did not take
    place. Since then, I have offered this treatment to six more “patients”
    —wife, adult older daughter, friends. The patent worked flawlessly and
    also almost instantly. When the “coronovirus” epidemic started, and then
    turned into a pandemic, I had the ground to seriously think about my
    amazing “case”. Why did lemon juice with honey help me and my
    “patients”? Reflections on the details of this “case” and the study of
    relevant literature turned out to be a real discovery for me.
    Influenza
    and simply viral inflammation of the airborne airways (upper
    respiratory tract), which each of us has been sick with more than once,
    are caused by the so-called rhinoviruses (free translation:
    nasopharyngeal viruses). Incidentally, the CODIC-19 virus, the causative
    agent of Coronovirus, also belongs to this large group of rhinoviruses.
    This group of viruses affects, as was said, the upper respiratory
    tract. Complications of these viral diseases are viral laryngitis,
    tracheitis, bronchitis, and often viral pneumonia, which not
    infrequently cause pulmonary edema and cause very considerable lethality
    (mortality) in all countries of the world among elderly, weakened or
    suffering from severe chronic ailments people.
    Two properties are mandatory for rhinovirus diseases.
    1. Infection and spread of the disease by these viruses usually occurs by airborne droplet (aerosol) route.
    2. Rhinoviruses never affect the digestive and urinary systems of the body.
    3.
    Vaccines created against these viruses are usually unreliable and
    short-lived, due to the truly meteoric mutation of these viruses into
    other virus strains not controlled by the vaccines received.
    Thinking
    back over my treatment with lemon juice and honey, I realized that in
    essence I was able to “rinse” my infected nasopharynx with a solution of
    high acidity. Obviously, this turned out to be enough to critically
    reduce the number of viruses introduced there. Probably it helped me
    that I also added honey to the drink, a slightly gelatinous substance,
    i.e. not easily washed off from the mucosa and provided an element of
    prolongation, acid retention on the nasopharyngeal mucosa, i.e. the
    effect of the acidic medium on the virus was significantly longer.
    Today,
    in reports of Japanese doctors treating a group of 19 patients with
    coronovirus, it was noted, among other observations, that they applied
    very frequent moistening of the nasopharynx even with plain water, every
    15 minutes. And in their opinion, this led to the washing off of the
    viral masses from the nasopharynx into the esophagus, along with saliva
    and sputum. Doctors especially emphasize that in the future the virus is
    washed off into the stomach and destroyed there by acid gastric juice.
    This information is confirmed by doctors at Stanford University Medical
    Center, USA.
    The conclusions made by me were simple:
    A) A coronovirus that penetrates the nasopharynx upon infection of a subject
    is quite unstable in the first hours and days after infection. Even mechanically

    1. moisturizing the throat when drinking any liquid partially flushes the
      viruses into the stomach, reduces the total mass of the infection.
      B)
      Coronovirus is not able to adapt in the gastrointestinal tract and in
      the urinary system. In the juice of the stomach, it is definitely
      destroyed. Those. the virus is critically sensitive to the acidity of
      its penetration and habitat.
      If the virus is destroyed in the stomach
      in acidic gastric juice, why not start preventative treatment of the
      COVID-19 virus with acid solutions starting from the nasopharynx?
      A
      simple and acceptable way to do this is to periodically drink acidic
      fluids within Ph 2.5-3.5 fluids. Fortunately, such are the juices of
      lemon, orange, grapefruit. Even sparkling water has a Ph of 3-3.5. For
      effective acid washing of the nasopharynx and upper respiratory tract,
      3-4 single doses of 30-40 cc of the above fluids are sufficient.
      Clearly, such a procedure cannot do any harm. And if it can lead to
      disinfection of the nasopharynx and upper respiratory tract, we are
      talking about the fact that we managed to find a method of direct
      destructive effect on the virus. This is no longer quarantine, wearing
      incomprehensible masks and not washing your hands to prevent dysentery.
      My
      empirical and occasional experience of suppressing the onset of a viral
      disease was, fortunately, a successful trigger for suggesting a way to
      gain control of a virus infection.
      Now about simplicity and complexity.
      In
      the history of medicine, most of the most important discoveries were
      made by years of research in hospitals and research centers. Most of
      these findings were initiated by chance personal observation by a doctor
      where many of his colleagues had visited more than once, but did not
      notice, did not turn their attention, did not observe the phenomenon
      from the visual angle from which they were seen by their more curious
      colleague.
      There is no doubt that a clear scientific investigation of
      the behavior of the coronovirus with respect to the acidity of its
      environment is necessary. Even the empirical use of graduated drinking
      of acid-containing juices and acceptable for human consumption liquids
      of high acidity in a representative group of virus carriers, with
      repeated monitoring of the location and preservation of the virus in
      them, can serve as a simple and indicative pilot study of this problem.
      I
      am well aware of the psychological problem associated with my proposal.
      The main and irresistible proof of skeptics is that simple! 99.9% of
      people are simply not able to perceive simple solutions to problems that
      seem to them to be cosmically complex. In fact, any virus is an
      extremely primitive and wretched biological creature that conquers
      precisely with its primitiveness, fantastically fast growth and
      reproduction in the tissues of the body. Direct light, dryness, a slight
      increase in ambient temperature above 25-30C destroy it. So why can it
      not be destroyed by an increase in acidity in the area of ​​its
      inoculation in the tissue above the level that is tolerable for the
      virus?
      This cannot be, say the highbrow luminaries, simply because it cannot be in any way! However, this “no way” must be verified.
      Already
      if only because the general situation with the fight against
      coronovirus is tragic. Closing people on giant reservations, face masks,
      and personal hygiene look like hopeless passive protection. The
      situation is extremely reminiscent of the race for the train that left
      the station or the horses that escaped from the stable. I don’t know how
      much more time it will take for the highbrow and Olympicly ambitious
      luminaries to look for a black cat in a huge dark room. But I, you,
      simple, reasonable and fairly intelligent inhabitants of the Earth, I
      invite you to drink three times – four times a day, fifty grams of
      freshly squeezed lemon or other citrus juice. At the same time, modestly
      wish yourself Health!

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