Lately, we’ve heard a lot about hand-washing and how it can protect us from picking up something nasty. But why is it so effective? In this Sort of Virtually Rick: The science of washing our hands and why we should ALL be in a lather!   

First up, some numbers: 

It’s been estimated that only around a fifth of the world washes it’s hands. Er. Gross! And kind of stupid especially when you realize that hand-washing is proven to reduce the bacteria that causes stomach bugs by up to 40 percent and cut school sickness by up to 60 percent.

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Viruses though, are different than bacteria, they aren’t “alive” and need us to live on, to help them multiply. They use our cells' genetic stuff to replicate and reproduce themselves, like measles, chickenpox, and the common cold. And as you know, you can’t cure a cold with antibiotics.

Viruses are like “nano-sized-greaseballs,” they can hang out on surfaces where they can live for several days. If you get ‘em on your hands, you can transfer them to others by shaking theirs or infect yourself by touching your face or rubbing your eyes.  The COVID-19 virus just loves mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Iit’s their front door, their way in.

So, here’s why soap is so powerful. It’s like a team of superheroes going into action. It contains molecules called “amphiphiles” that act like mini-magnets attracting and repelling water, fats, and proteins.

Ever poured some dish-washing liquid onto tray full of greasy water? The amphiphiles grab the grease and tear into it, pulling it into the water.

The COVID-19  greaseballs don’t have strong bonds holding them together. So the soap rips into their fatty protein shells. And when you hand-wash with soap you’re basically taking off their coat, making them water soluble, and disintegrating them, going harmlessly down the drain.

That takes a while to do, you’re sending soap into battle. You need to give it time to kick some virus butt. Because your skin is a wrinkly place full of areas for the virus to hide. Which is why scientists say 20 seconds.

Anything less and it’s like sending in your team for a seek and destroy mission but pulling them out early! However, you can win the battle every time if you focus. And wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water.

But if you can’t do that then obviously use hand sanitizer, which behaves in a similar way to soap, but you need a high concentration of alcohol to have the same effect, over 60 percent alcohol in fact. And it’s a bit like washing a dirty plate with sanitizer versus soap.

The soap is really the powerhouse of the two if you want to get into all the nooks and crannies and get that plate super clean. And forget about getting antibacterial soap - it’s a virus not bacteria.

Just take your time and wash your hands thoroughly. 

And scientists are adamant that the temperature of the running water doesn’t matter either, it’s the soap that does. 

So now you know why hand-washing with soap and water is such a powerful force.

Tell your friends, help them to understand that by doing something as simple as this for just 20 seconds at a time could literally make the difference between life and death for you or someone you haven’t met yet.

After-all, now more than ever we can see that we’re actually all one big family. We need to take care of each other and soap and water is the first and last line of defense.