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Why is soap effective in killing viruses?

Soap and viruses are attracted to one another, but it's a deadly relationship

ATLANTA — We’re so accustomed to thoroughly washing our hands that you may not have considered why soap is so effective at removing grit, grime, bacteria, and viruses.

Soap and viruses have an attraction to one another, but it’s a relationship that rarely turns out well for the virus.

Dr. Trina von Waldner of the University of Georgia’s College of Pharmacy says soap is made from fats and oils known as lipids.

Lipids are attracted to other fatty oily lipids.

“A lot of things have oil,” says Dr. von Waldner. “Even dirt and other grime and grease have fat molecules. If you try to rinse away something oily you can never get that off of your hand…you have to use soap with it.”

Guess what else has fat and oil? Viruses and bacteria.

The coronavirus has an outer layer made from lipids. Because of that, soap bubbles are attracted to the virus.

The relationship sours quickly.

Dr. von Waldner tells us the bubbles trap the virus.

“It pulls it into that bubble,” says von Waldner. “That perfect circle captures debris, dirt, germs, whatever is on your skin surface.”

Another part of the soap bubble is attracted to water, so when you rinse, the bubble hitches a ride and takes the trapped virus down the sink.

Soap can even work to destroy the outer layer of a virus and kill it.

By the way, you don’t have to use hot water. Water’s role is to wash the soap and grime away. You can’t get it hot enough to kill a virus on its own because it would burn you.

Keep the water at a temperature you find comfortable.

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