Hand Washing is Heroic

Soap — any kind: liquid, solid (bar), even rainwater-scented — is badass. That’s because when you wash your hands with soap and water, you’re not just wiping viruses off your hands. You’re actually annihilating the viruses, rendering them harmless.

Why? Soap is an “amphiphile.” One end of the molecule is attracted to water and repelled by fats and proteins, and the other side is attracted to fats and repelled by water. It’s this dual-nature chemical construction that makes soap so effective.

Basically, that happens is that the soap is attracted to the grease/oils on your hands, via its fat-loving side, and tears it up, pulling it into the water via its water-loving side. Coronaviruses are a bit like oil: it is made of bits of genetic information (encoded by RNA) surrounded by a coat of fat and protein. Think of viruses like “nano-sized grease balls.” Grease balls, no matter the size, are the exact thing soap loves to annihilate. That side of the soap molecule buries its way into the virus’s fat and protein shell, breaking it apart. The chemical bonds holding the virus together aren’t strong, so this intrusion is enough to break the viral coat, rendering it harmless. So, when you wash your hands, you are pulling the virus apart, dissolving it in water, and disintegrating it. Then the shards of virus, now innocuous, are flushed down the drain.

But, the trick is that 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 magic. Just 20 seconds does the trick.

And most importantly, you don’t need antibacterial soap, simple soap works fine — as long as you give it a little bit of time to do its job.

All of this makes me excited to wash my hands. As I’m washing and counting to 20, I imagine a nano-scale battle being waged in the tiny folds of my skin. And it can actually save lives.

Reminding you of my two golden rules 1) Don’t touch your face, and 2)Wash your hands well and often. Love, Ingrid