Hydrophobic Effect Explains How Soap And Water Destroy Coronavirus

March 25, 2020
Emory University Chemist Bill Wuest explains how plain soap and water alongside social distancing is the best defense against a COVID-19 infection.

If more people understood the chemistry of soap and water, they might better understand the need for devoting a full 20 seconds to the task of hand washing. So says Emory University Chemist Bill Wuest, who researches disinfectants and recently appeared on The Weather Channel to explain how washing your hands with soap and water can destroy the coronavirus.

In an article from the Emory University News Center, Wuest emphasizes that washing your hands properly and often with soap and water can reduce your chances of being infected with many pathogens and of spreading them to others. The hydrophobic effect – a basic chemistry concept that explains why oil and water don’t mix – reportedly is the key. When soap molecules are immersed in water, their hydrophobic – or “water fearing” – tails are attracted to fats or oils, according to the article. Coronaviruses, explains Wuerst, are encased in a fatty acid membrane, which can be broken apart by the soap molecule’s tail, destroying the pathogens. Warmer water boosts the effect, according to Wuerst.

Wuest is a Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator and associate professor in Emory’s Department of Chemistry, and a member of the Emory Antibiotic Resistance Center. He says he plans on using the soap and water example in his Chem 202 classroom as part of a curriculum that is designed to give undergraduates context for real-world problems and solutions.

Read the entire article here.

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