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Coronavirus Central

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 06: A basket of smaller bottles of hand sanitizer in the coronavirus pop-up store by Adilisha Patrom, owner of the Suites DC, a co-working and event space across the street from Gallaudet University, who started her pop-up store that sells face masks, protective gloves, and hand sanitizer for customers concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, DC on March 6, 2020. With the growing spread of the coronavirus around the world it is becoming harder and harder to find protective equipment and hand sanitizer around the country, especially the N95 protective face mask which Patrom is selling for $30, three times its regular cost. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, people are looking for any and every way to keep the virus at bay. Experts everywhere are throwing out suggestions about how far to stay away from people, how long to self-isolate, and how to stay healthy. One tip that has been going around from the beginning of the crisis is: keep your hands clean. You can use soap or hand sanitizer, but it’s worth asking: which one is the better option?

Palli Thordarson, a professor at the School of Chemistry at the University of New South Wales, has done everyone a solid and explains why and how soap kills the coronavirus. In this video, he also explains the difference between hand sanitizer and soap in killing the virus.

Thordarson begins the video by saying, “The whole virus just basically collapses like a house of cards,” before diving into why soap is essential to ward off sickness. “The soap molecules are similar to the lipid membrane, and they will go into the membrane, and they will start to mess it up. It’ll make it weaker, and also pull some of the membrane away from the virus,” he adds before explaining how the virus dies. He also breakdown what hand sanitizer does to viruses and explains which is better. Spoiler alert: It’s soap.  Watch the clip below.

Thordarson even went one step further and sent out a thread of detailed tweets about why soap is so essential to killing viruses and how they operate. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Disinfectants or liquids, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol (and soap) have similar effects but are not really quite as good as normal soap.
  • Many antibacterial products are basically just an expensive version of soap in terms of how they act on viruses.
  • When you cough, or especially when you sneeze, tiny droplets from the airways can fly up to 10 meters (30 ft)! The larger ones are thought to be main coronavirus carriers and they can go at least 2 m (7 ft). Thus – cover your coughs & sneezes people!
  • Wood, fabric and skin interact fairly strongly with viruses. The skin, in particular, is an ideal surface for viruses. “So when you touch, say, a steel surface with a virus particle on it, it will stick to your skin and hence get transferred onto your hands. But you are not (yet) infected. If you touch your face though, the virus can get transferred from your hands and on to your face.” Once it is on your face, the virus is dangerously close to the airways and the mucus type membranes in and around your mouth and eyes. So the virus can get in and infect you (unless your immune system kills the virus).
  • The surface structure also matters – the flatter the surface the less the virus will stick to the surface. Rougher surfaces can actually pull the virus apart.
  • The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is thought to stay active on favorable surfaces for hours, possibly a day. Moisture, sunlight, and heat all make the virus less stable.
  • Water alone is not very effective in washing the virus off our hands. Alcohol-based products work better. But nothing beats soap – the virus detaches from the skin and falls apart very readily in soapy water.

The 39-part thread, which gets a bit complex, begins below.