By now, you know that one of the most important defenses against the new coronavirus is also one of the simplest: plain old soap and water. A good scrubbing destroys the virus, ensuring your hands won’t carry germs to your face or things you touch. But why exactly does washing work so well?
Soap is a double threat to coronavirus. First, soap lifts many kinds of germs and dirt off the skin, washing them down the drain. Second, because of coronavirus’ structure, soap actually breaks it apart and kills it. The outer layer of coronavirus is made of fats. Soap molecules have long tails that burrow into these fats, trying to hide from water, and they tear the coronavirus apart in the process.
See the details in this excellent animation, made by the biochemists and scientific illustrators at the Rutgers-based Protein Data Bank:
And while we’re on the topic, here’s a refresher on the proper 20-second handwashing technique, clearly and quickly demonstrated by the U.K.’s National Health Service: