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April 09, 2020

How and why soap kills COVID-19...and lots of other germs too

Image of Fulton & Roark bar of soap beside a sink

When it comes to avoiding a disease as scary as COVID-19, almost everyone’s natural inclination is to want to go a little overboard. If we hear that wearing masks works, we want to find the very best mask available. Despite little to no evidence to support it, vitamin and supplement sales have boomed since the coronavirus hit the national consciousness. And then there’s the issue of washing our hands.

For many of us, we immediately wanted to buy up the most high-grade anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-everything kind of soap we could find. But amid all the bad news about the coronavirus, there was some really good news—almost suspiciously good news. To kill the virus on your skin, all you needed was ordinary soap and water. In fact, the U.N. advises against using antibiotic soap, and the FDA has issued findings that most antibiotic soaps are no more effective in preventing illness or the spread of infection than standard soaps. So what’s so good about ordinary soap, and how does it work? We’re glad you asked.

Soap is made up of interesting little molecules that have a hydrophilic head, which means that it bonds with water, and a hydrophobic tail, which means it avoids water and instead looks for oils or lipids to bond with. When soap and water interact, the soap molecules arrange themselves with their hydrophobic tails tucked together while the water-loving heads of the molecules face outward, looking to bond with water. Meanwhile, many viruses and bacteria (including COVID-19, the HIV virus and hepatitis B) have lipid membranes, or outer walls.

When you wash your hands with soap and water, you’re spreading those tiny little soap molecules all over your hands. As you’re washing, the hydrophobic ends of the molecules wedge themselves into the membranes of viruses and bacteria, causing them to rupture and break apart. The bits and pieces of the viruses and bacteria are then trapped in the tiny bubbles formed by the soap molecules, called micelles. As you rinse away the lather, you’re sending countless dead viruses and bacteria enveloped in soap straight down the drain to an unceremonial “burial at sea.”  Perhaps the most amazing part is that it all happens in the span of 20 seconds, or about as long as it would take you to sing the chorus of OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson” two times. (Thanks for that gem, Atlanta Magazine.)

So when it comes to keeping your hands clean, plain old soap and water is best. Now, when it comes to which soap to use, that’s a matter of personal preference. Not surprisingly, we’d like you to try our Bar Soap and Shampoo + Body Wash 2-in-1, because both are formulated to provide great lather, they’re full of skin-nourishing nutrients and they smell great. Our opinion? If you’re going to spend more time than ever washing, you might as well enjoy the process.

If you’d like to learn more about the ingredients in both products, check out the articles below:

What’s in our Bar Soap and Why

A Closer look into our Shampoo + Body Wash ingredients