To understand the science behind how handwashing with soap kills coronavirus, read the explanation in the animation:
You’ve probably heard that protecting yourself from COVID-19 means washing your hands for two rounds of the happy birthday song or 20 seconds of another favorite tune.
It may seem pretty mundane and simple, but a deep handwash is incredibly lethal to viruses. So why is soap such an effective killer against the novel coronavirus?
Let’s take a closer look at that dollop of soap in your hand. A soap molecule consists of a “head” that is hydrophilic — attracted to water — and a long hydrocarbon “tail” made of hydrogen and carbon atoms that is hydrophobic — or repelled by water.
When soap molecules dissolve in water, they arrange themselves into micelles, which are spherical clusters of soap molecules with the water-attracting heads on the outside and water-repelling tails on the inside.
The coronavirus has a core of genetic material surrounded by an outer sheath that’s a double layer of fats with protein spikes. This fatty sheath is water-repelling and protects the virus.
Let’s see what happens when we start washing our hands.
Back to the micelles: With a formation of water-attracting heads on the outside, and water-repelling tails on the inside that can dissolve fats, micelles become a lethal bundle of cells in water.
When they encounter coronaviruses, the water-repelling tails are attracted to the fatty envelope around the virus and insert themselves into the protective layer.
The virus shatters and is doomed down the drain.
But this doesn’t happen immediately. You need to take time to generate a good lather and cover all parts of your hands. That takes about 20 seconds.
And that’s why washing your hands is so effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Each time you create suds, you’re unleashing molecular assassins to attack and kill coronaviruses and, for that matter, nearly all other pathogens.