Soap, due to its chemical properties, for example, amphipathy, can destroy the cell membranes of bacteria and other pathogenic cells, as well as the shell of many viruses. Parents, doctors, and even soap ads advise us to wash our hands with soap after coming home and before eating. Washing hands with soap is a vital hygiene practice, especially during flu season. The reason for this practice is the ability of soap to “kill” germs. It’s amazing that something as mundane as soap can be our best defense against the deadliest viruses. What gives soap the ability to protect us from germs? And do they really “kill” the virus?
What is soap?
From a chemical point of view, soap is a salt of fatty acids. They are obtained by hydrolysis of fats and oils (triglycerides) from natural sources using an alkali solution. Alkali is an alkali obtained by preparing an aqueous solution of caustic soda. This process is known as saponification. This process is known as saponification. The pH of the soap is in the range of 9-10. All soaps, in fact, are surfactants (surfactants) and consist of amphiphilic molecules. This means that they consist of two parts: a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and a hydrophobic (water-hating) tail. Surfactants are special chemical compounds that can change the surface tension between different phases. The carboxylate group of soap forms a polar head that is attracted to water molecules. At the same time, the nonpolar tail containing the aliphatic chain is repelled by water and has an affinity for lipids and oils. This dual nature of soap allows it to dissolve both polar and non-polar molecules. The carboxylate group of soap forms a polar head that is attracted to water molecules. At the same time, the nonpolar tail containing the aliphatic chain is repelled by water and has an affinity for lipids and oils. This dual nature of soap allows it to dissolve both polar and non-polar molecules.
How does soap work?
To understand how soap destroys germs, you must first understand how it works under normal conditions. Based on this, let’s look at how soap and detergents wash clothes so effectively. Detergents easily remove dirt and grease from clothes due to the action of amphiphilic molecules. When you mix detergent with water, the polar head focuses on the water phase. While the hydrophobic tail, in order to escape from water molecules, focuses on non-polar molecules such as oils.
The hydrophobic tail attaches to dirt and oil stains to prevent contact with water. At the same time, the hydrophilic head binds to the water molecule. The soap then pulls the oil from the surface, focusing on a circular structure around the oil particles called micelles. These micelles transfer oil molecules to the surface of the water. Here, the soap foam traps dirt and oil, allowing them to be washed off with water. However, what does this have to do with viruses?
How does soap destroy viruses?
In some ways, viruses are like oil molecules. How, you ask? Well, basically, a virus is genetic material wrapped in a protective layer called a shell. These shells consist of fats or, in scientific terms, lipid bilayers. They also contain a very important part of the virus: protein spikes. These spike proteins cling to the receptors present on the host cells, which allows the virus to infect them.
Lipoprotein-coated viruses include the Ebola virus, the H1N1 influenza virus, herpes and the currently fashionable coronavirus, to name just a few. As in the case of washing greasy stains from clothes, soap molecules attach to the virus and other microbes. When you wash your hands with soap and water, the hydrophobic tail of soap begins to look for a place where water molecules could hide from the virus. When they find the virus, the soap molecules begin to surround it. The hydrophobic tail sticks to the wall of the lipid bilayer of the virus and tears it from a given surface, for example, from your skin.
This is not the end of the matter. The hydrophobic tail penetrates the virus even more, trying to get even further away from the water. Just as a bubble is pierced with a pin, the tail opens the outer wall of the virus. This splits the virus into pieces, causing its contents to leak into soapy water. The remnants of the virus are washed away when you wash your hands.
Does soap kill the virus?
Despite the fact that many commercials claim that soap “kills” germs, technically this is not the case. Soap simply tears the virus apart and removes it from the surface. Imagine that soap gives the virus a good rubbing. So much so that in the end the virus still technically remains, but only in the form of pieces, without cell walls and spike proteins. Also, if there is no cell wall holding the contents of the virus together, is it really a live virus? Contrary to the opinion of many, soap is much more effective at destroying germs than alcohol-based disinfectants. Don’t get it wrong, disinfectants do kill viruses and germs, but they can’t wash away the virus. Instead, they leave sterile dirt and dead viruses on their hands. In addition, since they are only 99.9% effective, they can also leave some active viruses on your skin. Hand sanitizers can be a good substitute for soap and water. However, when possible, soap and water should be used to wash your hands.