Does bar soap kill COVID-19? How soap works to kill germs

Due to the popularity of antibacterial hand wash, many people are left asking does bar soap kill COVID-19?

Since the 1980s, more and more people have made the switch to liquid hand wash from soap bars. That's because liquid soap has been marketed as being more hygienic than bar soap.

Since the 1990s, we've seen a rise in antibacterial hand wash products which has led many to shun ordinary bar soap. Contrary to popular marketing messages, bar soap may be one of our best protections against the new coronavirus.

So does bar soap kill COVID-19? Let's explore:

Bar soaps vs liquid soaps

Microbes stick to the oil our hands naturally produce and hitch a ride until they get inside our bodies or somebody else's. This is where certain bacteria and viruses can wreak havoc. When you wash your hands with soap and water, the soap breaks down the oil chemically while the friction from rubbing your hands together does it mechanically.

Some medical experts recommend bar soaps over liquid hand wash because rubbing the bar between our hands while lathering creates more friction. Yep, grandma's florally pink soap does the job just as well as the most expensive antibacterial sanitiser on the market.

Bacteria on bar soaps isn't transferred between washes - or washers

Some people fear the transfer of bacteria from a soap bar used by others to themselves. But studies have shown that washing with previously-used bar soaps doesn't transfer bacteria to our hands or bodies. If you're still turned off by the prospect, you can rinse the bar under water before lathering up.

Does bar soap kill COVID-19?

The short answer is yes.
How soap works:
  1. Some bacteria and viruses have lipid (fat) membranes, including COVID-19. We surround these microorganisms on our skin with soap when washing our hands.
  2. The soap molecules wedge themselves into the lipid membrane of certain microbes and pry it apart.
  3. Essential proteins spill from the ruptured microbe membranes into the surrounding water which kills bacteria and renders a virus useless.
  4. Micelles are also created to suspend dirt as well as broken bits of viruses and bacteria from the oil of our hands.
  5. These are washed away when we rinse.

The most important thing is how you wash your hands

Most public health officials agree the technique of washing hands is the most important factor. The more soap and the longer the hands are rubbed together, the less oil and microbes left on the hands once they've been rinsed:
  • Wash for at least 20 seconds with warm water
  • Ensure you wash all surfaces of your hands
  • Dry throughly using a clean towel or paper towel

Experts say bar soap can be more effective than liquid soap and hand sanitisers

Doctors don't disparage antibacterial liquid soaps and sanitisers. They do tend to regard them as a plan B compared to washing with bar soap and warm water.

Dr. Tiffany Wells at River City OB-GYN told ABC, “Being at home, having a bar of soap would be perfectly effective, reasonable, and typically cheaper... Also, less use of plastic.”

Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Joseph Sirven said bar soap protects against COVID-19 because of its chemical composition which includes fat, “You need this fat compound – that’s what the soap is – to break down that virus... it will not survive that."

Head of infectious diseases at Wolfson Children’s Hospital Dr. Mobeen Rathore said “Soap and water is the preferred mechanism for washing your hands and good hygiene, over even hand sanitizers."

Antibacterial soaps are a waste of money

Antibacterial soaps can create antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Animal studies have shown that triclosan, an ingredient present in many antibacterial products, alters hormones. Manufacturers haven’t been able to prove that triclosan is safe for daily use over a long period of time which is leading to increasing bans.

In the case of COVID-19, antibacterial properties don't add any extra killing power because the disease is a virus. The FDA says antibacterial products offer no additional protection compared to traditional bar soap and may even create health problems in the long run.

Don't stress if you can't find antibacterial liquid hand wash or super strong hand sanitiser. Experts agree that washing with a plastic-free bar of soap is just as effective at preventing COVID-19 than any other product on the market. Wash your hands, save lives.

*Just a heads up that this article should in no way be taken as medical advice. It is simply a compilation of information from different medical experts. Always check the government health guidelines for your local community for the most current information.