Soap or disinfectant: what works better against the corona virus?

SARS-CoV-2  is an enveloped virus from the corona virus family. In addition to the corona vaccination, the most important measure to protect yourself from infection with the pathogen is proper hygiene. Proper hand hygiene can help prevent the further spread of the virus disease COVID-19. But what is a better way to fight the virus: with disinfectant or actually with the simple household remedy soap? And how can you make disinfectants yourself? You can find out here.

How does soap work?

The cleaning effect of soapy water can be explained by its structure. Soap is made up of many small particles (called molecules). Each particle has a water-loving (hydrophilic) end and a water-repellent (hydrophobic) end. The water-loving part is fat-repellent at the same time and the water-repellent part is fat-loving at the same time. This means that one side of the particle connects well with fat and the other with water.

When soap comes into contact with greasy dirt, the fat-loving part binds with the fat. If the hands are washed with water after lathering, the particles of the soap rotate in such a way that the fat-loving part points towards the fat or dirt and the water-loving part away from it, i.e. towards the water.

The water-loving ends are grouped in a circle around the water-repellent (i.e. fat-loving) parts and to a certain extent enclose them. This creates a kind of ball of soap particles with the dirt in the middle. This sphere is also known as a “micelle”.

How does soap affect the corona virus?

Viewed  from the outside in, the corona virus is made up of fats, proteins and genetic information The fat layer on the very outside protects the virus and offers the ideal target for soap, which binds the virus to itself and transports it away.

So if hands are washed thoroughly and regularly, the virus can be removed from hands by simply washing them off. No special soap is required, commercial soap is sufficient – regardless of whether you use liquid soap or a bar of soap. However, since germs can settle on a bar of soap, the use of liquid soap is usually recommended.

When should you wash your hands?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), an institution that primarily deals with infectious diseases, recommends  hand washing  in various situations:

  • before the meal
  • after using the toilet
  • before and after food preparation
  • hands after blowing your nose or sneezing
  • after  coughing  into hands
  • generally when hands are visibly dirty

In addition, there are currently other situations in which it may be advisable to wash your hands to protect against infection with the corona virus. This applies, for example, if you have touched possibly contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, shopping trolleys, railings or money, and before and after caring for sick people.

How do you wash your hands properly?

So hand washing has a number of benefits. Like disinfection, however, it is only really useful if it is done correctly. The following six tips should help:

  1. Thorough hand washing takes at least 20, even better 30 seconds. As an aid, it is recommended to sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice.
  2. Don’t forget any spot: The spaces between the fingers, fingertips, thumbs and fingernails should also be soaped.
  3. After lathering up, rinse thoroughly under running water.
  4. The faucet in public toilets should be used with the elbow or a disposable towel. The same goes for doorknobs.
  5. Healthy people should not use the same towel to dry off as sick people. Disposable paper towels are recommended.
  6. Regular use of care lotions protects the skin of the hands from drying out.

How does disinfectant work?

Disinfectants contain high-proof alcohol and thus have a microbicidal effect. This means they kill microorganisms such as bacteria,  fungi  or viruses.

One speaks of disinfection when the number of germs has been reduced by a factor of at least 100,000 during use in a test procedure. This means that, for example, with an original germ count of 1,000,000, a maximum of 10 germs may have survived after disinfection.

Here, too, the effect is based on mechanisms from the field of chemistry. To kill the germs, the disinfectant can destroy the cell walls of the microorganism, penetrate inside the cell and achieve its deadly effect.

Which disinfectant helps against Corona?

Although disinfectants kill pathogens, not all are effective against viruses. When using a disinfectant against the corona virus, care should therefore be taken to ensure that it corresponds to the “limited virucidal” range of action. Virucidal means that an agent is able to kill viruses.

The limited virucidal disinfectants are effective against enveloped viruses such as the corona virus. Disinfectants that are labeled “limited virucidal PLUS” or “virucidal” in their description can also be used. Disinfectants achieve their virucidal effect, for example, through alcohols or quaternary ammonium compounds.

What works better against the corona virus?

If you compare the benefits of disinfectants with washing your hands in everyday use, there are a few reasons for washing your hands with soap:

  • Washing hands has the benefit of effectively removing the virus from hands while being less harmful to the body. Disinfectants, on the other hand, are made from comparatively aggressive chemicals that can irritate the skin and the respiratory tract.
  • Both washing hands and using disinfectants dry out the hands, but the disinfectant irritates the skin much more. The danger of frequent hand disinfection is that the skin becomes brittle and cracked and is therefore more susceptible to pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi than healthy skin. Therefore, when washing your hands and especially when disinfecting your hands, you should not only pay attention to thorough cleaning, but also to regularly applying care lotions to your skin.
  • Another advantage of hand washing is that the running water also washes away the coarse dirt on the hand, which may contain viruses or other pathogens.
  • It is also assumed that disinfectants can promote the emergence of resistant germs.
  • Another disadvantage of disinfectants is that they more often lead to allergic reactions and  inflammation  of the skin.

Due to the effective and less harmful effect, hand washing makes more sense for everyday use. Disinfectants can be used in situations where cleaning of hands is necessary but there is no possibility to wash hands.

How can you make disinfectants yourself?

At the beginning of the  pandemic  , disinfectants were sold out in many places in Germany and other countries. Many people therefore wanted to make their own disinfectant. The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a recipe for this.

The following ingredients are required:

  • 830 milliliters ethanol (96 percent) or alternatively 750 milliliters isopropyl alcohol (99.8 percent)
  • 45 milliliters hydrogen peroxide (3 percent)
  • 15 milliliters glycerin (98 percent)
  • 110 ml of boiled water or distilled water
  • measuring cup
  • an empty 1 liter bottle

The ingredients should be carefully poured into the empty bottle and shaken, then they will make one liter of disinfectant. They are available in pharmacies, specialist shops or on the Internet.

The hydrogen peroxide is not absolutely necessary for the production, but serves to kill spores, i.e. the permanent form of bacteria. In order for the disinfectant to take effect, however, the finished mixture must remain sealed in the container for 72 hours.

Only mix disinfectants yourself in an emergency

It is important to note that the prescription is an emergency prescription. This means that it should only be used when no more disinfectant is available. Although it contains glycerin to prevent the skin from drying out, it still dries it out considerably more than purchased products, which is why the self-mixed disinfectant should only be used in exceptional situations.

You are also warned against mixing your own disinfectants because the ingredients are flammable chemicals that, if possible, should not be used by laypersons. Experts therefore recommend that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap in everyday life.

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