Covid-19: Soap a better disinfectant

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

Panic buying was seen in most parts of the Klang Valley today after Malaysia saw a drastic spike in cases since last Saturday when the tally surged from 242 to 428 in just 24 hours.

While the shortage of hand sanitisers in the country has yet to be reported, Europe and the United States have been suffering from depleting stocks of the alcohol-based disinfectant over the past couple of weeks.

KUALA LUMPUR – March 16, 2020: Should you worry for your life if hand sanitisers are all sold out due to a Covid-19 panic buying? Well, if soaps are still around then experts say you need to fret not.

Infectious disease expert Dr Ying-Ru Jacqueline Lo of the World Health Organisation says that soap, when combined with water, is effective in ridding viruses.

“Washing your hands with soap and water is very effective as doing so inactivates and removes viruses in the same way that it removes dirt from skin,” said Lo.

Hand sanitiser is essentially a liquid or gel disinfectant that is used to kill off bacteria and viruses on the hands. It comes in two types: alcohol-based and alcohol-free.

While the popularity of hand sanitisers has soared amidst the viral pandemic, Perlis-based general practitioner Dr. Nur Syuhada Zulkifli, like Lo, insists that maintaining good hygiene is most important in warding off Covid-19.

“It is not necessity for us to use hand sanitisers to clean our hands. But using hand sanitiser is indeed an easier and more convenient way to do so, especially where there is no soap or water,” said Nur Syuhada.

The importance of soap is highlighted in WHO’s laboratory safety guideline related to clinical testing of patients infected with Covid-19 in which thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm running water is classified as the best practice.

How soap — one of the most everyday, mundane of household items – becomes one of the most effective tools in the fight against Covid-19 was explained by a chemistry professor on Twitter.

In his thread, Chemistry professor Palili Thordarson from the University of New South Wales pointed out that soap has a fat-like compound called amphiphiles that can dissolve the protective coating of viruses.

Soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and “dies”, or rather, we should say it becomes inactive.

“Water alone is not very effective in washing the virus off our hands. Alcohol based products work better. But nothing beats soap – the virus detaches from the skin and falls apart very readily in soapy water,” says Thordarson.



About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at