Skip to Content

We know we need to wash our hands… but what makes it work?


Handwashing, along with social distancing has been the anthem of the CDC as the coronavirus threat has spread worldwide. This should be a no-brainer at this point, but it may have you asking what makes this activity so effective.

First, we have to understand something important.

Oil and water do not mix together.

Think about when you cook something greasy and it gets on your hands. If you just let them run under water only, they don't really get cleaned off. It's not until you use soap that you're able to remove the grease.

So what's the deal with soap, what makes it so effective at removing grease?

Amphiphiles. (What the heck are those?)

An amphiphile is a molecule present in ALL soap. It has an end that is attracted to water, and an end that's attracted to fats and oils.

This essentially acts like a magnet for fats and water. These molecules are strong enough to FORCE oil and water to mix together, eventually allowing the water to break down the fat molecules and dilute them within the water.

A molecular firestorm...

So what does any of this have to do with coronavirus? You've probably seen this image on television or online-- this is what the virus looks like if you were to make it... less microscopic.

However, we need something a little simpler to illustrate this point. Three basic components make us this virus.

-The outer protein spikes which help the virus access human cells.

-The "stuff" inside (this includes genetic material such as RNA/DNA... think of these as the "instructions" to cause illness within the host)


-The most important part for this illustration... a layer of fat which holds all of this together!

You might be able to see where I am going with this...

There are several different ways this virus can get on your hands. Most of the time it's from touching an infected surface.

What washing your hands *WITH SOAP* does is plain and simple from here: The soap and water mixture literally rips apart the layer of fat holding the virus together, turning it into a mush of harmless proteins and genetic material. It's no longer a virus, and it can no longer infect things!

And it's IMPERATIVE that you use soap (it doesn't matter which kind either-- Any brand, anti-bacterial, foaming, bar) ... remember from before, you can't remove grease from your hands with just water! In the same fashion, you can't just break down the virus with only water either.

Unfortunately, you can't see this virus, so it is impossible to know whether or not it might be on your hands or surfaces around you.

BUT, if you practice proper hand hygiene, you can at LEAST have one way to know for sure that you've removed most, if not all potential contagions on your hand.

So get to it! Wash your hands! 20 seconds! Sing happy birthday twice! Get every nook and cranny! Let's nip this in the bud!

Don't forget to show your friends this article and how effective and important hand hygiene is in helping slow down this nasty virus!


Insider Blog

Luke Victor

Luke Victor gives forecasts on ABC 17 News broadcasts and reports on weather stories on air and online, giving viewers and readers a deeper look at what causes different types of weather.


Leave a Reply