How soap kills the coronavirus (Vox)
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Fight coronavirus with the most powerful and simple tool: sopa. But do it properly. Here is why soap helps destroy this virus (and all others).


You know that the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands.
Wash your hands, doo doo, doo doo, doo doo.
Wash your hands!

But … why?
It’s because soap — regular soap, fancy honeysuckle soap, artisan peppermint soap,
just any soap — absolutely annihilates viruses like the coronavirus.

Here’s how.
This is what a virus, like coronavirus, looks like.
It’s a bit of material surrounded by a coating of proteins — and fat.
Viruses easily stick to places like your hands, but when you rinse your hands with just water, it rushes right over the virus.

That’s because that layer of fat makes the virus behave kind of like a drop of oil.
You can see it happening in this demonstration.

Oils are just liquid fats.
What happens when you pour oil into water?
It floats — it doesn’t mix.
But add soap…
And suddenly that fatty oil dissolves into the water.

That’s because inside, soap has two-sided molecules.
One end of the molecule is attracted to water, the other end to fat.
So when the soap molecules come in contact with water and fat, these dual attractions literally pull the fat apart, surrounding the oil particles and dispersing them through the water.

Let’s go back to our coronavirus molecule.
With that layer of fat holding everything together.
When it interacts with soap … bam!
The fat gets pulled out by the soap.

Soap literally pulls apart and demolishes these viruses.
And then the water rinses the harmless, leftover shards of virus down the drain.
But, and you know where I'm going with this, it takes time for this effect to happen.
20 seconds, to be specific.

To show why, we ordered this lotion that mimics viruses and their fatty layers.
It glows under a UV light.
If you just rinse your hands under regular water … nothing comes off.
If you wash for just 5 seconds or 10 seconds, your hands are still covered.
The virus is still here, able to get you and others sick.
But 20 full seconds:
Now the soap is actually destroying the virus.

Hand sanitizer works too, because it’s mostly alcohol, and alcohol works in a somewhat similar way to soap, breaking down that fatty layer.
You need a high concentration of alcohol to make that work.
The CDC recommends hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.
But even with 60% alcohol, the CDC recommends using soap if you can.
If your hands are sweaty or dirty when you use the sanitizer, that can dilute it and diminish its effectiveness.

As for soap, just any old soap works.
You don’t need soap marketed as antibacterial, even.
The FDA says skip it — there’s no proof it is any more effective.
Just be sure to wash your hands.
For 20 seconds.

That’s “Happy Birthday” twice.
Or the chorus to Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.”
Or Prince.
Or Eminem.
Or even Dolly.
Just as long as it’s 20 seconds.

And you’re using the ultimate virus annihilator: soap.



SPREAD= Extension.

FANCY= Something fancy is something sophisticated, elegant or highly decorated.

HONEYSUCKLE= A plant with little flowers which contain nectar, a sweet natural substance a bit similar to honey, so you can suck the flower and taste it.

ARTISAN= Made by hand, not in a factory.

JUST ANY SOAP= This soap, that soap, the other one, all of them are just as good.

ANNIHILATE= /ənaɪəleɪt/ Destroy, kill.

COATING= Layer, cover; the outer part.

FAT= (noun) This word can be an adjective or a noun. If you are very fat that is because there is a lot of fat in your body. Fat is the greasy substance that makes you fat.

STICK= If A sticks to B, then A gets in firm contact with B and it is difficult to separate them.

RINSE= Wash something with clear water.

RUSH= To move quickly.

RIGHT= We can use "right" as an intensifier, to emphasize expressions of place and time (right here, right now), similar to JUST.

LAYER= COAT (see above)

BEHAVE= Function.

KIND OF= More or less.

POUR= If you pour a liquid into something, you put it into that thing, like when you pour water into a glass.

DISSOLVE= Disappear (apparently) because its molecules get dispersed.

MOLECULE= The smallest particles composing something. Molecules are made of atoms, two or more of them.

END= The extreme of something, the border. For example, a line has two ends, a square has four ends.

PULL APART= If you pull something apart, you pull until it breaks and separates.

HOLD TOGETHER= Keep together (the opposite of "separate")


HARMLESS= Not dangerous.

LEFTOVER= Remains, what is left of something.

SHARDS= Fragments, broken pieces.

DRAIN= A piece of channel or tube where water goes away.

SPECIFIC= Precise, exact.


MIMIC= Imitates.

FATTY= Made of fat.

GLOW= Give out a soft light.

UV= Ultraviolet light.

REGULAR= Normal (in this case, without soap)

COME OFF= If something comes off, it separates from where it was in contact.

SICK= Ill, infected.

ACTUALLY= Truly, really.

SANITIZER= Cleaner, disinfectant.

CDC= (in the US) Center for Disease (illness) Control.

SWEATY= If you run a lot or if it is very hot, you sweat (salty water comes out through your skin). And if you sweat, you are sweaty (covered in sweat).

DILUTE= Dissolve, make less concentrated.

DIMINISH= Reduce, make smaller.

ANY OLD SOAP= All ordinary soaps (you don't need a special soap, they are all fine). The word "old" here means simply "normal, known".

WORK= Function, be good for this.


FDA= Food and Drug Administration (the American government organism dealing with food and medicines).

SKIP IT= Forget about it, you don't need it (They mean that it is not important if they say a soap is antibacterial or not, because all soaps are antibacterial).

PROOF= Evidence.

ULTIMATE= The best, the most effective.

ANNIHILATOR= /ənaɪəleɪtə*/ Something that kills or destroys.