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Coronavirus expert explains why soap is better than hand sanitizer

Published Apr 7th, 2020 3:10PM EDT
coronavirus soap
Image: NAAN/Shutterstock

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  • Coronavirus expert from Mayo Clinic explains why soap is such a powerful weapon against the spread of the virus. 
  • Health experts recommend washing your hands frequently and especially after coming into contact with anything outside of your home, such as at the grocery store or pharmacy. 
  • Hand sanitizer is a good option as well, but you have to be generous with the amount you use and ensure it reaches all areas of your hands. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across the globe there’s one piece of advice that has been repeated more than any other: Wash your hands. It’s a simple recommendation that we’ve all heard since we were old enough to reach the sink, but why is it so incredibly important right now, in the face of a planet-wide virus crisis?

The simple answer is “because it works,” but for a longer and more detailed explanation of why soap is so efficient at fighting the novel coronavirus, we’ll let infectious disease expert Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, lay it all out.

In a brief Q&A session published by the Mayo Clinic News Network, Dr. Poland reveals the relationship between viruses, your skin, and soap.

Q. Why is washing your hands with soap and water the best?

A. Your hand has oils on it, and viruses stick to that oil. They have an electrostatic charge to them. But when you’re washing with soap, soap has things that decrease surface tension in them so you are physically rubbing by friction and washing away that virus. It is the most effective thing we know to do. That’s why surgeons, for example, scrub their hands so very carefully before they go into an OR. It works, and it works really well.

Put simply, soap is incredibly efficient at removing the virus from your skin, but you have to put in the work and wash your hands in the proper way. That means rubbing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds and paying attention to the backs of your hands, your fingernails, and every nook and cranny.

As for what role hand sanitizer can play in preventing the spread of the virus, Dr. Polland has some advice on that front as well.

Q. What about hand sanitizer?

A. Second best is hand sanitizer. If you have mucous or dirt on your hands, hand sanitizer cannot penetrate that; whereas, soap literally washes that away.

If you’re going to use hand sanitizer, ensure that it is at least 60% alcohol so that it can effectively kill the virus. Using too little hand sanitizer is also bad news, and the doctor recommends a quarter-sized or half-dollar-sized amount, rather than just a tiny dab. Rub the gel all over your hands and then allow it to air dry.

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