How Soap Works to Remove Viruses And Bacteria

Aug 02 , 2020

Michael Raymond

How Soap Works to Remove Viruses And Bacteria

We’ve all been told that washing our hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water is vital in removing dangerous viruses and bacteria from our skin.  But how exactly does soap work, and what makes it more effective than just using plain water?  We’ll go over the makeup of soap and how the tiniest components of this timeless cleaning product work to protect you from disease.

The Makeup Of Soap

Soap has been around for thousands of years, ever since the ancient Babylonians discovered how this substance cleans much more thoroughly than water alone.  Unlike the way certain detergents or hand sanitizers kill viruses, soap removes viruses and bacteria because of the unique way its ingredients interact with water and oil molecules. 

Soap is made by combining a fat or oil, an alkaline, and water.  This creates a chemical process known as saponification.  Soap can be derived from different types of animal fats or vegetable oils, such as tallow or coconut oil.  No matter what type of fat or oil soap is derived from, all soap works the same way to remove viruses and bacteria and keep us safe and healthy.

Oil Vs. Water

Viruses and bacteria often stick to the oils and grease on human hands, working to infect their host by inserting their genetic materials into host cells.  When these dangerous microorganisms mix with the natural oil on your skin, it can be difficult to remove them with water alone.  This is because water and oil don’t mix, as water has a polar charge while oil and grease do not.

Soap, on the other hand, does interact with both water and oil thanks to its unique chemical makeup.  A soap molecule is a surfactant, which means one end of the molecule binds with water while the other end binds with oil.  The chemical structure of a soap molecule is set up with a charged polar salt molecule at the head that binds with water, while the string of non-polar fatty acids on the tail binds to the oil on your skin.

Removing Viruses And Bacteria

Because of its ability to bind with both oil and water, soap can easily remove viruses and bacteria from your hands to then wash down the sink.  The soap molecules destroy viruses by using their tails to wedge into the lipid membrane of the virus and break it apart.  These soap molecules then form circles around dirt, bacteria, or virus fragments, with their hydrophobic tails facing inward while their hydrophilic heads face out towards the water.  These little bubbles are called micelles, and they easily wash away viruses, bacteria, and dirt during the hand washing process.

In order to fully realize how important hand washing is to prevent disease, you have to understand how soap actually works.  By being diligent about hand washing with soap, you can minimize the risk of getting sick and keep your loved ones safe and healthy.