With the city of Metro Manila in "community quarantine" because of the rise in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, it's no surprise that supermarkets, drugstores, and malls are in chaos. People are rushing to stock up on food and supplies, specifically disinfectants like alcohol, to the point where some establishments have had to impose a limit on how much alcohol a customer can buy per transaction.
This now begs the question: Is splashing your hands with alcohol and sanitizer the answer to killing the virus? The answer is both yes and no. That's because your best option for protecting yourself from COVID-19 is—say it with us now—handwashing with soap and water. Below, Ospital Ng Makati resident Dr. Margaret Pajanel explains why and answers your other burning handwashing questions.
How does washing with soap kill viruses like COVID-19?
"To make it simple: Soap is made of fat, and the key that holds the virus together is the lipid layer on the outside. So to break the lipid layer, the soap will disassemble it and the virus falls apart," says the doctor.
How does soap compare to using alcohol and sanitizer?
Dr. Pajanel clarifies that soap, alcohol, and sanitizers all help in fighting the virus. But there is an order of efficiency, which goes: soap > alcohol > sanitizer. "Sanitizer is 'watered down', but it's better than nothing," she adds. Alcohol and sanitizer are good for when you're on the go and have no access to a sink, but whenever possible, always opt for the soap and water option.
Speaking of being effective, the posts you see online about washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds aren't just memes—they're actually accurate. "Viruses are more resilient compared to bacteria. And our alcohol solutions, although handy, are not as good at 'disinfecting' for viruses, and the length of time is proportionate to death (of the organism)," the doctor continues. So whether it's singing "happy birthday" or humming the chorus of your favorite song, do whatever you have to do to have enough handwashing time!
Do you need to use a specific kind of soap to kill the virus?
The soap-induced death of the virus doesn't discriminate. Whether you're using an antibacterial soap or a scented bar that fades dark spots, it's better than using no soap at all. "I don't think the type of soap matters 'cause they should all have that lipid base to break down the wall of the virus," Dr. Pajanel tells us. As long as your hands feel squeaky clean after, you should be good to go!
So in case you haven't—wash your hands, stock up on soap, and keep a sanitizer in your bag if you're stepping out. Stay safe, everyone!