Coronavirus - should I be using hand sanitiser? What about soap and water?

Splashed across social media is that supermarkets and other stores are selling out of hand sanitiser as people try to prevent the spread of coronavirus or COVID-19 as it is otherwise known.  

We don’t use it in our household, so I thought should I be? We regularly wash our hands and have recently increased our hand washing time to the time it takes to sing happy birthday, and following more recent advice, to now singing happy birthday twice (under our breath)

So in my research, I found the studies have shown that hand washing with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs. But that means properly lathering with soap washing the back and front of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, which is why it is to the length of time it takes to sing happy birthday twice. Then rinse and dry. There was also a study showing that the temperature of the water doesn’t make a difference. A lot of the research is on hand washing and bacteria, but more diseases that are of global concern are caused by viruses. One research project was done comparing a minute of vigorous hand washing with a bar of soap on e coli and a virus similar to ebola and it found that hand washing was as good as a chlorine rinse, that some doctors use.

Washing with soap and water is a good way to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Photo by Imani on Unsplash

I also thought I’d look at whether there is a difference between using a liquid soap and a soap bar, mainly whether germs can be transmitted from the soap bar. There was a study in 1988 where soap bars were contaminated with 70 times the amount of bacteria that would normally live on a used soap. People were asked to wash their hands with the soap and the researchers then tested their hands and couldn’t find any traces of the contamination on their hands. So the main difference is that bar soaps are most commonly made from saponified animal fat and/or plant oils (like the ones we sell). Whilst liquid soaps are mostly petroleum based and require emulsifying agents and stabilisers to maintain their consistency. Liquid soaps not only use single use plastic containers but leave a 25 per cent larger carbon footprint.

Coronavirus is an enveloped virus, so it has an outer membrane formed out of oil and fat. All enveloped viruses are susceptible to soap and detergents which break the outer membrane, rendering them ineffective. The experts are saying the best way is to wash your hands with soap and water, use a hand sanitiser that is 60 per cent-plus alcohol when you CANNOT wash your hands and NOT as a replacement. A virus needs a host to reproduce, so the experts also advise against touching your eyes, nose or mouth or wounds with clean hands. 

So my conclusion is don’t bulk buy hand sanitiser. Have a thought for the people who have suppressed immunity who need it for day to day living.


Further reading 

Temperature of the water


Contaminated bars are unlikely to transfer bacteria


Handwashing and ebola



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