When parts of the UK went into panic-buying overdrive last year because of coronavirus – antibacterial products were among the first to go. Some supermarkets even limited how many in-demand items they sell per customer.
Stocks may have returned, but is there anything else they can use to get rid of such germs? Yes, as it turns out. Washing up liquid and a good old-fashioned bar of soap also do the trick.
Sharing a reminder of the importance of practising good hygiene, Dr Adrian Heald, a consultant physician working in Cheshire, pointed out that using soap or washing up liquid also “disable the virus”.
How does this work, then? Dr Ed Wright, senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Sussex, explains that coronavirus particles have a fatty, oily outer layer – and using soap or washing up liquid damages that layer.
“That layer is required for the virus to be able to infect a cell,” he explains. “If you use soap or detergent (washing up liquid), they will all interact with this waxy, oily layer and disrupt that, so the virus will fall apart and won’t be able to infect anybody.” Excellent news for your dishes, then.
Dr Wright adds that he uses “strong detergents” to deactivate viruses in the lab – so, “they’re perfectly effective, these washing up liquids and soaps, outside of the lab”.
Liquid soap is formulated to be easy-to-use for hand washing, but it isn’t different from bar soap, foaming hand-wash, or dish detergent (washing up liquid), adds Dr Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at University of Reading. “Undiluted dish detergent/washing up liquid might be a bit harsh on the hands – so try to use this less,” he says.
When you’re cleaning your hands, Dr Edwards recommends doing it thoroughly – “with any soap or detergent, as long as it’s safe for hands” – to properly remove any bugs or virus. “Soap and detergent are quite good at killing the virus, but it’s mostly about removing the virus from your hands [so rinsing it down the sink], rather than killing it,” he explains.
Professor Sally Bloomfield, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also stresses that rinsing the soap off properly is really important as it helps wash away the virus.
If you don’t have a sink and running clean water, use alcohol hand gel. “This stays on your hands long enough for the high percentage of alcohol to directly kill the virus without washing it away,” he explains. “Alcohol alone can just run away, and it’s harsh on the hands, but gel stays there.”
Remember, the main advice to protect yourself from coronavirus is to wash hands, cover the mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and put used tissues in the bin immediately.
Update: the headline of this article originally stated that washing up liquid and bars of soap ‘kill’ the virus. It has been amended for clarity.