Contrary to popular belief, antibacterial soaps don’t kill viruses because like antibiotics, antibacterial soap only deals with bacteria, not viruses.
In fact, studies have showed that antibacterial soap is NOT more affective than nonantibacterial soap. As stated in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases:
“The lack of an additional health benefit associated with the use of triclosan-containing consumer soaps over regular soap, coupled with laboratory data demonstrating a potential risk of selecting for drug resistance, warrants further evaluation by governmental regulators regarding antibacterial product claims and advertising.”
When it comes to viruses, regular soap works the best.
Soap works better than alcohol and disinfectants at destroying the structure of viruses. This is 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 or rather, it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive. Soap molecules disrupt the chemical bonds that allow bacteria, viruses and grime to stick to surfaces, lifting them off the skin.
Why Soap Works Well
Basically, soap does what water can’t; it breaks down the fatty membrane that viruses have around them, and in turn, it causes the whole virus to break down. In fact, fat-like substances in soap are structurally similar to the lipids found in the virus membrane, so the soap molecules compete with and replace the fats in the membrane. In the end, the virus gets dissolved altogether.
The New York Times does a great job at explaining the process:
“When you wash your hands with soap and water, you surround any microorganisms on your skin with soap molecules.
The hydrophobic tails of the free-floating soap molecules attempt to evade water; in the process, they wedge themselves into the lipid envelopes of certain microbes and viruses, prying them apart.
‘They act like crowbars and destabilize the whole system,’ said Prof. Pall Thordarson, acting head of chemistry at the University of New South Wales. Essential proteins spill from the ruptured membranes into the surrounding water, killing the bacteria and rendering the viruses useless.”
This process takes time, which is why it’s necessary to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
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