Natural Soaps vs. Hand Sanitizers: What Works Best?

coronavirus covid19 hand-sanitizer health soap

Hi everyone! This is a Think Dirty PSA about the efficacy of hand sanitizers vs. soaps vs. “natural” hand sanitizers vs. “natural” soaps. With the oversaturation of COVID-19-related articles in the media, we have seen some misinformation about which products are best to use for hygiene practices and in reducing transmission of coronavirus/COVID-19. We are at a critical point in time and we want to do our best to flatten the curve and reduce spread in our community.

We’re not even three months into the year and it already feels like we’ve survived another decade. As we all know, hand sanitizers like Purell have become our new currency in 2020 and are increasingly hard to come by as grocery store shelves empty. The panic is real and we all want our hands to be as clean and germ-free as possible during these trying times.

The Best Practice: Soap & Water

Though it may seem like hand sanitizers are the holy grail based on supermarket shelves, both the CDC and the WHO strongly emphasize that washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to protect yourself from becoming infected. The good news is that you can use any kind of soap! Doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, soap is soap. As long as it lathers, you’re good. We recommend non-toxic soaps that exclude the potentially harmful ingredients but keep all the good stuff in.

So why is soap so effective?

Quick Science Lesson: A virus has a lipid bilayer that encases it’s interior — essentially a membrane made of a double layer of lipids that shields the entire particle from the outside world. But soap dissolves the bonds holding the lipid bilayer together! Viruses aren’t built as sturdily as human cells, and once the bilayer starts to fall apart, the virus is done for. So when you wash your hands with soap, you’re essentially destroying any viral particles on your hands. This is extra important because viruses love to cling to human skin cells. Soap loosens the viral particles from your skin and ruptures their membranes.

Here and here are great articles that explain the chemistry in more detail if you want to know more about the wonders of soap.

We’re not leaving our houses much these days, but if you go out for a walk or to a store, it’s still important to wash your hands (lathering for at least 20 seconds before ringing). You’re on the Think Dirty blog — we’re extra cautious here!

More of a visual learner? Check out these helpful videos explaining the importance of using soap and demonstrating why it works so well in fending off viruses.

If You Don’t Have Soap & Water: Hand Sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol)

The CDC recommends using hand sanitizers as the next best option if soap and water are not available. They note that hand sanitizers with at least a 60% alcohol content should be used — so check that label. Studies found that hand sanitizers with a 60–95% alcohol concentration are more effective than hand sanitizers with under 60% as they kill more germs outright rather than just reducing their growth.

Alcohol-based products like hand sanitizers do kill enveloped viruses like COVID-19, but they can be less effective. Alcohol as a chemical kills viruses in a similar way to soap, by denaturing — essentially unfolding — the proteins so the virus falls apart. However, for this to happen enough sanitizer has to be used, and for at least 25 seconds. The virus has to be saturated for it to work properly. People may not use enough, and if hands are dirty or greasy, sanitizer can be inhibited.

While hand sanitizers are sold out everywhere, many stores still have plenty of soap. If you are using hand sanitizer, remember to rub it on your hands until they are dry to make it as effective as possible.

Where To Buy:

Many companies are still shipping products right now, so you can easily order online rather than trying your luck at the grocery store. We created a tab on our site specifically for our favorite soap products and some hand sanitizers as well (all have over 60% alcohol!).

Left: Rocky Mountain Soap Antibacterial Kitchen Hand Wash

Right: Tropic Signature Hand Wash

Left: Kosmatology Botanical Bliss Hand Sanitizer (Lavender Eucalyptus)

Right: Jusu Body Vanilla Peppermint Hand Soap

Stay safe and remember, wash your hands!

Natural Soaps vs. Hand Sanitizers: What Works Best? was originally published in Think Dirty on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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