Hand Wash for COVID 19 or Hand Sanitizer. A hard choice.

Hand wash for COVID 19 or Hand Sanitizer.

Hand wash for COVID 19 or hand sanitiser for COVID 19? This is a common dilema as the  COVID 19 virus wreaks its havoc across the world.
Never did one imagine that the planet earth would witness a time when a minute, invisible, basic form of life, would dictate to the most highly evolved, intelligent (and often arrogant!) species on the planet as to how that species should live. That time is here and now.

Hand wash for COVID 19.

Every human being is desperately looking for ways to ensure that he or she does not “catch” the COVID 19 virus. One of the important ways to ensure that the virus doesn’t infect people is to make sure that everybody washes their hands frequently with soap and water, or an alcohol based hand sanitizer, and that they do not touch their eyes, nose and / or mouth as well.  A 20 second hand wash is all it takes to deactivate the virus. Smokers need to be particularly careful.
A lot of confusion exists regarding whether washing with soap and water or use of a hand sanitizer is more effective. This write up aims to answer that question.

Hand Sanitizer for COVID 19.

Sanitizers most often come in fancy, easy to dispense, well packaged bottles. They smell nice and are often expensive as well. Carrying a small bottle of sanitizer in a pocket or hand bag is considered to be a sign of a person who is responsible, careful and cares about other people! Sadly it has also almost become a “must have” fashion accessory as well!
It also up’s the glam quotient and makes a personal statement about the person who proudly flaunts it! As a result of all these reasons it naturally comes across (erroneously though!) as the more effective method to prevent the COVID 19 infection, compared to the humble, mundane, less glamorous, more messy and time consuming hand wash with ordinary soap and water. Let’s examine both of these methods carefully.

The COVID 19 virushand wash for COVID 19

The COVID 19 virus is a spherical structure measuring 0.06 to 0.14 microns in diameter (1 micron is 0.001 millimetre). The virus has projections (made up of proteins) on its surface all around that resembles short spikes.
The spikes and the spherical shape of the virus cause it to resemble the shining sun and hence the name “corona virus”. The spikes latch onto the ACE2 receptor of the human host cell and then undergoes a structural change that allows the viral cell membrane to fuse with the host cell membrane enabling the viral RNA to enter the host cell and multiply.
The virus cell when unattached to a host cell maintains its structural integrity because it is held intact by a lipid (fat) laden envelope all around. If this lipid layer is dissolved, the virus will disintegrate and die. A 20 second hand wash for COVID 19 destroys this lipid rich envelope causing viral cell death.

Hand Sanitizer for COVID 19.hand wash for COVID 19

Soap and water not only dissolves the outer lipid layer of the virus but it also disrupts the sticky bond between the virus and the human skin. The virus is therefore not only killed but also prevented from sticking to the skin as well. The type of soap does not matter.
The temperature of the water used in a hand wash for COVID 19 does not matter either. Both expensive, high end, branded soaps, and their cheaper unbranded (and often unscented!) alternatives work equally well. Expensive, so called “anti bacterial” soaps have no specific advantage or added efficacy.
All soaps have a hydrophilic (water loving), and a lipophilic (fat/lipd loving) component. Water and fat generally do not mix at all but when soap is added they suddenly mix with ease. Soap is the chemical bridge between fat and water. Soap and water are cheap, available in most places.
The combination is very potent in killing the virus and prevents it from sticking to the skin. It also gets rid of any dirt or grime on the hands very effectively.

Hand wash for COVID 19.HA

Since soap and water are readily available in most places, it is but natural to use them liberally and this liberal use ensures that every square millimeter of both hands are covered in the washing process. The antiviral action of soap and water is very good even when hands are soiled or dirty. Hand wash for COVID 19 is easy and practical.
Washing with soap and water must be for at least 20 seconds for effective dissolution of the lipid layer on the surface of the virus. A simple 20 second hand wash for COVID 19 is potently virucudal.
Twenty seconds is the time it takes to sing the popular happy birthday song twice over in front of the wash bowl /sink! Most public health experts recommend a soap and water wash as the preferred method of preventing the spread of the COVID 19 virus.

The Conclusion – hand wash for COVID 19 or Hand Sanitizer.

Alcohol based sanitizers only dissolve the fat covering of the virus. They do not wash away grime and dirt from the hands. They are more expensive, less readily available in many places and must be atleast of 60% alcohol concentration to be effective.
When an expensive sanitizer is dispensed from a bottle it is but natural to use as little of it as possible. This results in the sanitizer not reaching every square millimeter of both hands and thus reducing its cleansing efficacy. Alcohol based hand rubs are also less effective the a hand wash for COVID 19, especially if hands are soiled and dirty.
Public health experts would therefore recommend sanitizers only as the second method of choice for preventing the spread of the COVID 19 virus. A Soap and water wash is certainly the first choice of most public health experts.

Hand wash or Sanitiser

20 thoughts on “Hand Wash for COVID 19 or Hand Sanitizer. A hard choice.”

    1. Thanks Janie. Glad you found this useful. We grappled with this question early on in the pandemic so we thought it would be appropriate to write up a summary of our research and hence this post.

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