The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has given rise to medical advisories floating on social media and in the media. One such advisory promotes the use of soap.
However, several people are sceptical about the effectiveness of soap and how it can kill the virus.
Forgive me if I’m ignorant about this; I have zero medical knowledge after all, but I’m at a loss to understand how soap (or even sanitizer) can kill virus. The only way, in my limited knowledge and understanding, is social distancing. Self-quarantine if you have symptoms. https://t.co/2tyc0zoqt2
— Shehla Rashid (@Shehla_Rashid) March 13, 2020
Does soap kill the coronavirus?
Soap and water alone, when used as per the WHO handwashing guidelines, are effective and easy for killing coronavirus. See figure below (adapted from CDC). From the schematic figure of the COVID-19 virus, the outer layer is an enveloped a fatty layer (grey layer from the figure) which is the weakest link assembling the structure together. This outer layer contains proteins embedded into the structure and holds the genetic material of the virus inside it. Water alone cannot break this outer layer structural links or bonds which is made of the fatty layers (lipids).
However, regular soap being an amphiphile- a substance which has both water-loving (hydrophilic) and fat-loving (lipophilic) molecules, binds to the fatty layer of the virus and detaches the fatty layer which disassembles the virus structure, thereby killing the virus.
For this process ordinary soap is enough for virus destruction if used correctly, the addition of antibacterial substances such as Dettol, do not add to the functional properties of the soap and may add to further microbial resistance.
Also, most anti-bacterial liquids are only tested against bacteria and not viruses. In addition to soap, a high concentration of pure alcohol (80-95%) may effectively clean the surface or skin from the virus.
There are simple things we each must do to protect ourselves from #COVID19, including 👐 washing with 🧼 & 💦 or alcohol-based rub.
WHO is launching the #SafeHands Challenge to promote the power of clean 👐 to fight #coronavirus.
Join the challenge & share your 👐 washing video! pic.twitter.com/l7MDw1mwDl
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 13, 2020
Ordinary soap and water, when used correctly are enough to clean and destroy the virus. No special soap, hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial agent is required.