Soap And Water Vs Hand Sanitizer – who wins and why?
We’ve all been hearing reports about how there is a run on anti-Bacterial soap and hand sanitizer, due to the collective realization that ridding one’s hands of possible biological contaminants, is one of the cardinal points of avoiding contraction of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
That was a factor that was outlined in our report published this week:
There are stories of such products either being marked up drastically in price (gouging) or simply not to be had for any price. The commonly accepted wisdom, is that “anti-bacterial” hand cleaners are better bets for removing the particular infectious substance represented by the coronavirus than regular old, garden variety, pedestrian soap.
But is it in fact, true?
There are a lot of factors to be considered. To begin with, viruses are not bacteria. WebMD, summarizes that, unlike bacteria, viruses can’t survive without a host. They can only reproduce by attaching themselves to cells. …
Also unlike bacteria, most viruses do cause disease, and they’re quite specific about the cells they attack. Viruses are also infinitely smaller than bacteria, hence the sorts of regimens that are valid with regard to bacteria, are not always ideally suited to preventative measures against viruses.
So, if viruses are not bacteria, there is no particular advantage inherent in an anti-bacterial product for cleaning. But the comparison is even more complex.
Not only are the agents of transmission of viruses tinier, but the nature of their cell structure is different. The molecular structure of a virus, in this case, the coronavirus, involves three components, proteins, RNA – (the genetic factor) and lipids – a sort of glycerol / fatty acid.
Each of these ingredients, if you will, adhere to one another, but don’t dissolve together. They are sort of like an unholy trinity of nanometric biological substances that team up to invade your healthy cells. Once one microbe of the virus makes its way in, it reproduces, using the hosts own healthy cells to make copies of the viral cells.
As the viral cells multiply, they destroy an initial host cell and break through the cell structure and continue the destruction. Think of a cyber threat such as malware – malware, such as the kind developed for the attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, first discovered in 2010 – Stuxnet. Once such a cyber attack commences, it progressively destroys all phases of the system it targets.
A virus functions similarly. In some people, if their immune defenses are up to snuff, and overcome the invasion, the symptoms are relatively minor. The point of skin cleansers is prophylactic. If your hands are sanitary, touching your face is much less risky.
The microbes of a virus, when they wind up on a surface, behave differently according to the surface. They are more transferable to humans when they are on hard surfaces such as metal, smooth and finished wood, plastic and porcelain, because of the nature of the hydrogen bonds between the virus and the surfaces they reside on. They also interact with skin in a different fashion than bacteria.
1/25 Part 1 – Why does soap work so well on the SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus and indeed most viruses? Because it is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer. A two part thread about soap, viruses and supramolecular chemistry #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/OCwqPjO5Ht
— Palli Thordarson (@PalliThordarson) March 8, 2020
The other more critical factor in terms of how anti-bacterial cleaners function as opposed to old fashioned soaps – either in the form of a bar or a liquid soap – is how effectively the cleanser disrupts the hydrogen bond of the virus and dislodges it from your skin.
Virtually all the products that classify as “anti-bacterial”, involve various concentrations of alcohol. Alcohol is vastly superior to plain water, in separating the viral molecules from your skin – so it is better than not using anything at all. But alcohol, is not ideal with respect to doing battle with a virus.
Alcohol removes pathogens with varying degrees of effectiveness. But rubbing a disinfectant that is alcohol based into your hands, is not nearly as effective as soap and water.
The alcohol based cleaner could be compared to soap and water as a state championship high school football team, to even the lowest winning percentage NFL team. Even the Cincinnati Bengals are going to clobber the mighty 2019 National High School Championship winning St. John Bosco Braves – every time they line up across from each other.
That is the comparison between soap and water and an anti-bacterial hand cleaner or wipe. Of course, I have really unpacked the particulars of this on a non-academic, layman’s level. If you want to dig into this further, you can check out the science of it with this more comprehensive outline from the CDC.
Bottom line though, if you feel like you have missed the boat on acquiring a stockpile of hand sanitizers, you can make your own hand sanitizer gel quite inexpensively out of simple ingredients – from this online recipe. A quick note about disinfectant sprays (Lysol) or disinfectant wipes.
Their principal value is attacking lingering viral agents from surfaces in your home or office and they are very effective and useful in that role. In a pinch, you can take a paper towel and apply some sanitizing gel to it and wipe down objects and surfaces that are high traffic.
The stronger the concentration of the alcohol, the greater the effectiveness – 60% plus is a minimum, but 91% Isopropyl Alcohol is much more ideal. Just remember though, wherever and whenever access to good old soap and water, used in a vigorous, thorough, scrubbing fashion is available, nothing beats it for being certain you are safe.
If you are using a public facility in an office building or a restaurant, for example – either opt for the dryer unit, using an elbow to start the blower – or dry with paper towels and do what I learned from my son years ago. Use the towels to open the door without having to touch it directly and then once outside the bathroom or washroom, dispose of them, avoiding re-exposure to possible virus agents on the handle of the door or the push plate. I also, sometimes, use my foot to open the exit door to avoid contacting it. Stay safe out there.
by Richard Cameron
We haven’t done a proper write up on the Lincoln Project yet, which we need to do, but in the meantime, if you are not familiar with it, in shorthand, it is a new non-profit organization purposed to mobilize Republican voters in recognizing the threat not only to the foundational principals of the GOP, but the broader risk that Donald Trump as president, poses to our system of democracy.
One of the most entertaining aspects of it, in my view, is the marquee participant on the board of the Lincoln Project, George Conway, the husband of Trump’s White House political and media adviser, Kellyanne Conway.
“Interviews with 13 current and former officials, as well as individuals close to the White House, painted a picture of a president who rewards those underlings who tell him what he wants to hear while shunning those who deliver bad news.” https://t.co/q8n5BCM4yu
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) March 8, 2020
We’ll be featuring more from them as the election cycle advances, but in the meantime, here is a short, but high impact video montage they are circulating, including on Youtube, that contrasts the gravitas of past occupants of the Oval Office, with the current one: