Why does Soap work so well on the Corona Virus or Covid-19, and indeed most viruses?
Soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus then falls apart like a house of cards and 'dies'. Rather, it becomes inactive as viruses aren't really alive. Viruses can be active outside the body for hours, even days.
Disinfectants, or liquids, wipes, gels and creams container alcohol (and soap) have a similar effect but are not quite as good as normal soap. Apart from the alcohol and soap, the antibacterial agents in these products don't affect the virus structure much at all.
Consequently, many antibacterial products are basically just an expensive version of soap in terms of how they act on viruses. Soap is the best, but alcohol wipes are good when soap is not practical or handy (eg office receptions).
Why is soap so good?
To explain that, Palli Thordarson takes us through a generic supramoecular journey encompassing chemistry, nanoscience and virology. He explains while he is an expert in supramolecular chemistry and the assembly of nanoparticles, he is not a virologist. Most viruses consist of three key building blocks, RNA, Proteins and Lipids. The RNA is the viral genetic material, similar to DNA. The proteins have several roles including breaking into the target cell, assist with virus replication and basically to be a key building block in the whole virus structure. The lipids then form a coat around the virus, both for protection and to assist with its spread and cellular invasion. The RNA, proteins, and lips self assemble to form the the virus. Critically there are not strong 'covalent' bonds holding these units together. Instead the viral self-assembly is based on weak 'non-covalent' interactions between the proteins, RNA and lipids. Together these act together like a velcro so it is very hard to break up the self-assembled viral particle. Still, we can do it - with soap!
Most viruses including the Coronavirus are between 50-200 nanometers, so they are truly nanoparticles. Nonoparticles have complex interactions with surfaces they are on. Same with viruses. Skin, steel, timber, fabric, paint, and porcelain - all very different surfaces.
When a virus invades a cell, the RNA hijacks the cellular machinery like a computer virus and forces the cell to start to make a lot of fresh copies of it's own RNA and the various proteins that make up the virus. These new RNA and protein molecules self-assemble with lipids (usually readily present in the cell) to form new copies of the virus. That is, the virus doesn't not photocopy itself, it makes copies of the building blocks which then self-assembled into new viruses.
All those new viruses eventually overwhelm the cell and it dies/explodes releasing viruses when then go on to infect more cells. In the lungs, some of these viruses end up in the airways and the mucous membranes surrounding these. When you cough or sneeze, tiny droplets from the airways can fly up to 10 metres. The larger ones are thought to be the main coronavirus carriers and they can go at least 2 metres - thus - cover your coughs and sneezes!
These tiny droplets end up on surfaces and dry out very quickly, however they are still active. What happens next is all about supramolecular chemistry and how self-assembled nanoparticles (like the viruses) interact with their environment. Wood, fabric and skin interact fairly strongly with viruses. Contrast this with steel, porcelain and some plastics (eg teflon). The surface structure also matter, the flatter the surface, the less the virus will stick to the surface. Rougher surfaces can actually pull the virus apart.
The virus is held together by a combination of hydrogen bonds and what we call hydrophilic or 'fat-like' interactions. The surface of fibres or wood for instance can form a lot of hydrogen bonds with the virus. In contrast steel, porcelain or teflon do not form a lot of hydrogen bonds with the virus so it is not strongly bound to these surfaces. The virus is quite stable on these surface areas, but doesn't stay as active on fabric or wood. Moisture, sunlight and heat all make the virus less stable.
The skin is an ideal surface for a virus. It's organic, and the proteins and fatty acids in the dead skin cells on the surface interact with the virus. So when you touch a steel surface with a virus particle on it, it will stick to your skin and hence transfer to your hands. But you are not yet infected. If you touch your face the virus is now dangerously close to your airways and the mucous type membranes in and around your mouth. If the virus gets in, voila, you are infected, unless your immune system can kill the virus.
If the virus is on your hands, you can pass it on by shaking someone's hand. Kisses, sneezing in someone's face - you're stuffed.
People touch their face every 2 to 5 minutes. so you are at high risk once the virus gets on your hands unless you wash the active virus off. If you just wash it off with water, it is unlikely to work as the virus is sticky and may not budge, water is not enough. Soapy water is totally different. Soap contains fat-like substances, some structurally very similar to the lipids in the virus membrane. The soap molecules compete with the lipids in the virus membrane. The soap effectively dissolves the glue that holds the virus together, out competes the interactions between the virus and the skin surface, detaches it and makes it falls apart, and it disppears down the sink.
The skin is quite rough and wrinkly which is why you need to wash for at least 20 seconds and a fair amount of rubbing and soaking to ensure the soap reaches every nook and cranny on the skin surface that can be hiding active viruses.
Oriwa Naturals soap is packed full of fatty oils that will break through the viruses, but will leave your skin moisturised as well. You can get yours here!
Palli Thordason is a professor at the School of Chemistry in Sydney New South Wales that specialises in Supramolecular Chemistry.