I’ve always liked the smell of Ivory soap. Clean, fresh and comforting. Some of my friend’s houses featured Irish Spring or even Lifebuoy, but I was always an Ivory girl. At least until I got to the age where soap began to make my face feel dry and tight. As I learned more about skincare and facial care, I learned how soap can strip moisture from your face. I switched to using nice, rich cleansers.
It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really given a lot of thought to the soap we use for hand washing.
Because soap may not be the best thing for your face, but it's great for washing your hands.
Cheap, reliable, and readily available soap is the best thing you can use to fight the nasties we inevitably pick up as we go about life in the world. Bar soap, liquid soap, doesn’t matter. It all works. Hand washing with soap is probably the most effective single step you can take personally to fight the new corona virus.
How viruses spread
Respiratory viruses, including coronavirus spread when mucus or tiny droplets containing the virus find their way into your mouth, nose, or eyes. This often happens through your hands, which is why it’s so important to try to avoid touching your face or rubbing your eyes (which is a common habit for most of us).
Hand contact is also one of the most common ways that a virus is spread from one person to another.
The solution, obviously, is to wash your hands. It’s one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus.
The method of choice-soap and water
Old school, cheap, reliable soap is a bad ass in your virus fighting arsenal. Soap kills the corona virus-and a lot of other undesirables.
Here's why soap's a virus killing machine
Soap has the ability to breakup fats and grease and disperse it in water. In other words, it acts as a bridge between water molecules and oil molecules (which, of course, normally don’t mix) and allows them to disperse.
This is familiar. If you take a glass of water and add a spoonful of oil, the oil will form a distinct pool in the water. If you add a few drops of soap and stir, the pool of oil will break up into small droplets that are suspended in the water.
An everyday example of this is dishwashing. We use soap to wash dishes covered with grease or fat. The fat breaks up, and is bonded to water and washed down the drain.
Soap works to kill viruses in the same way.
Viruses, like the coronavirus, are made of genetic material surrounded by a fat and protein coating, like a tiny grease ball. Soap penetrates the coating and breaks it apart (which rips the virus apart and kills it). Just like it does to the grease on a plate.
On a plate, the surface is smooth and it’s easy for the soap to break up the fat and grease. Your hands aren’t smooth. Your skin is made up of small grooves and tiny wrinkles. To get the virus killing soap into those areas takes time and some scrubbing. This is why it’s important to work the soap in and scrub for a full 20 seconds before you rinse it all away.
Hand washing hints
The CDC suggests washing your hands in the following instances:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating
- Before and after taking care of someone who is ill
- Before and after treating a wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or helping a child with the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed or treats, or animal waste
- After toughing garbage
I would also suggest washing your hands before and after being in public places like the grocery store.
Here’s how to do it:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold doesn’t matter), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Turning off the tap saves water.
- Lather up your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. This is the time soap needs to penetrate those little grease balls and send them packing. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Germs are more easily transferred by wet hands.
What about hand sanitizers?
With all the buzz about the shortage of hand sanitizers, you might wonder if these modern, seemingly scientific cleansers might be a better choice or have extra virus fighting abilities.
They don’t. Soap and water is the best choice whenever possible.
Hand sanitizers were developed for times when soap and water aren't available. And they’re a good choice for those times if you can actually get your hands on it.
The CDC website states, "If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and wash with soap and water as soon as you can."
Hand sanitizers work by disrupting the outer coating of the virus or the cell membrane of a bacteria. Hand sanitizers are effective against many kinds of germs, including the corona virus. But they don’t work against viruses that don’t have an outer coating or certain bacterias, like c. difficile.
They also won’t work won't if your hands are sweaty, dirty, or greasy.
If you’re using a hand sanitizer, be sure to use enough to cover both hands and wrists. You need to rub both hands together for at least 30 seconds and be sure to get between fingers, around nails, and finger tips. Then let your hands air dry. Using a towel or wiping on your clothes will limit the effectiveness.
Wash your hands and sing
So, yes, wash your hands...a lot. With soap and water for 20 seconds and sing something happy like two rounds of "Happy Birthday" or "Twinkle, twinkle little star".
My personal favorite is Twinkle, twinkle. I also have to admit I like to take a little whiff of my Ivory covered hands as I scrub. It brings me back…
And I’m happy to know that while I’m singing away, soap will be charging like a warrior into any lurking germs, tearing them apart, and sending their remains down the drain.
Better days are coming.