Soap vs. Hand Sanitizer - Which is Better?
Soaplicity Blog

Soap vs. Hand Sanitizer - Which is Better?

Covid-19 has put a new spin on our daily workings at Soaplicity this week. We opened a free handwashing station with free soap Free Handwashing Station - Soaplicitynibs to anyone wanting to wash up, incorporated free local delivery for our town and the two closest towns to us for those not wanting to venture outside, put some of our soap bars on sale, changed some of our employees’ hairstyle guidelines, and I have tried singlehandedly to start a viral trending of #SoapBeforeSanitizer on Twitter and Facebook (please help out to help people remember!). To say we have been busier than normal is an understatement. We have also been inundated by questions and misconceptions by concerned customers, a few of which I want to address quickly in this post.

Before I get down to the nitty-nerdy-scientific-gritty, let me state that my husband and I are self-proclaimed germaphobes so know this subject is all-important to us. We have gone after information like a ketonian goes after a cheeseburger. That being said, here is what we DO know (in simplest terms) about soap and hand sanitizer and how it affects the novel coronavirus (Covid-19):

Soap Before Sanitizer – AlwaysPeriod.  Underscore.

If there is nothing else you learn from this post, learn this: Soap and water are the single most effective way to KILL, Destroy, and/or Annihilate bacteria and viruses. (“Why” is coming. Read on).  The CDC recommends using soap and water whenever possible, and especially when your hands are soiled.  They further recommend the use of sanitizer (60%-80% concentration) only when soap and water are not available or as an added protection after washing hands (not our first choice, but a choice).  

We had quite a few customers come into our store this week, walk right past rows of soap, and ask us if we had hand sanitizer. We will be releasing those products in the next week or so, but I refuse to sell them to anyone until they understand that HAND SANITIZER SHOULD ONLY BE USED WHEN SOAP AND WATER ARE NOT AVAILABLE!  Hand sanitizer is a fallback option, not a better option.

I know people are inherently lazy (convenience-oriented for the sensitive), me included. I get it that hand sanitizer is fast and taking a few seconds to effectively wash your hands with soap and water (20 seconds to be exact) is inconvenient.  But, so is getting sick. It takes much longer to recover from that than the 20 seconds it takes to wash your hands. You choose.

Why Soap is Better Than Sanitizer

In basic terms, soap molecules have both heads that bond to water (hydrophilic) Soap Function Diagramand tails that attempt to avoid water (hydrophobic), seeking out oils and fats to bond to instead. When the fat-seeking tails of soap molecules come across the fatty lipid membranes of certain viruses like the novel coronavirus, they wedge themselves into their membranes like a crowbar, effectively prying them apart and destroying them. Additionally, those same soap molecules also simultaneously disrupt the sticky chemical bonds of bacteria, viruses, and grime that allow them to adhere to the skin, washing them away with the accompanying water.  

Hand sanitizers with the active ingredient(s) of isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, or a combination of them in at least a 60% concentration can also destabilize the lipid membranes of viruses, but they cannot easily remove them from the skin like soap. This becomes very important because there are also many viruses and bacteria that do not rely upon a fatty lipid membrane to invade healthy cells, rendering hand sanitizer useless.  The soap may not “crowbar” those viruses and bacteria either, but it still has the capacity to remove them from the skin surface.

Additionally, there are few other drawbacks to hand sanitizers. They can severely dry out the skin of your hands, leaving one vulnerable to secondary infections from cracks that can form, not to mention making the use of soap or sanitizers painful. Also, if sanitizer is ingested by small children it can cause great harm. Moisturizing soaps can soothe the skin as it cleans, and ingesting it just causes unpleasant vomiting (read a funny story about that HERE).

A few things to remember:

  • You must wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water to be effective. Wash between fingers, under fingernails, and on the back of hands. Sing your ABCs or Happy Birthday to ensure you are washing long enough.
  • Hand Sanitizer needs to be at a 60%+ concentration to be effective as a back up to soap and water.
  • Make sure to keep a moisture-locking lotion on hand, like our Rogue Lotion Bar, to use after frequent hand washing and sanitizer application.
  • Don’t panic. Do what you can for who you can.

Be sensible and be safe. If you have any questions or concerns let us know in the comment below. We love to help! 

2 thoughts on “Soap vs. Hand Sanitizer - Which is Better?

  1. avatar Sinofresh says:

    Helpful blog.

  2. avatar Levi Armstrong says:

    I’m glad you mentioned that you must only use hand sanitizers must if you cannot wash your hands or just as an added protection after washing your hands. I don’t have any supplies of hand sanitizer in our house as of the moment, but I would try to buy some as soon as possible as additional protection during this pandemic. My little boy, however, is allergic to isopropyl alcohol so I’ll try to look for shops that sell alcohol-free hand sanitizers just for him. Great article, Roshan!

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