With runs on hand sanitisers and antibacterial cleaners up and down the land, we wanted to make like ‘Number 10’ and provide you with the best scientific advice (based on the science from scientists) on whether antibacterial agents are actually any better than your Nan’s plain old bar of soap.
The first clue is found on the NHS online official guidance for managing the outbreak of COVID-19. The guidance states to use soap and hot water and to wash your hands often. Where soap and hot water is not available, use a hand sanitising gel.
Why? Because whilst there is evidence that antibacterial gels and creams containing alcohol are useful at getting rid of viruses, they’re just not quite as effective as your good ol’ soap and hot water.
The ‘science’ of a virus.
Firstly, let’s clear something up – bacteria and viruses are not the same thing. Bacteria are living organisms that do not rely on the ‘host’ cell to reproduce. Viruses on the other hand, use the resources from host cells to reproduce.
Most viruses consist of the same three components; proteins, lipids and ribonucleic acid. Virus-infected cells produce a lot of these components and when carriers sneeze or cough, infected particles in the form of small droplets end up on surfaces such as kitchen worktops, door handles, train doors etc and of course human skin.
Whilst these droplets can dry out rapidly, the virus can remain active for some time, depending on the surface. When we touch these surfaces, the virus particles bond to our hands forging a glue-like connection with our skin.
And, it turns out, human skin is an ideal surface for viruses to hang out and party with the dead cells and organic compounds on our hands.
This isn’t the good kind of party with nibbles + dips either, it's the kind that should be shut down immediately and given a swift ASBO. Especially given that most of us touch our faces an estimated 23 times an hour.
On that basis, it's easy to see why the key bit of government advice for much of the Coronavirus crisis has been “keep calm and wash your hands, old boy”.
The ‘science’ of soap.
Water alone won’t work to wash clingy virus particles off your hands or surfaces given the glue-like interactions that form.
That is where soap comes into its own. Soap and detergents contain surfactants that reduce the surface tension and loosen the bonds between germs and the surface.
The soap molecules compete with the lipids in the virus membrane, dissolving it and rendering the virus inactive. Washing the soap off thoroughly with water then washes away any residue.
Non-antibac cleaners and soaps are highly effective at washing away bacteria and viruses from hands and surfaces when used correctly.
Antibac vs regular soap
There is currently no evidence that antibacterial products clean or disinfect any better than regular soaps and detergents.
Most studies seem to show that non-antibacterial cleaners and soaps work just as well as products with specific antibacterial agents when it comes to removing viruses and bacteria but without a number of potentially harmful by-products.
For example, there is growing consumer awareness that sterile environments where 99.9% of bacteria is eliminated may not be good for the health of the household.
For handwashing, antibacterial gels have alcohol based ingredients such as ethanol and isopropyl alcohol that are effective at ‘killing’ bacteria and viruses, but don't wash them away. So without total coverage they can be less effective than ordinary soap and hot water.
The Homethings view
At Homethings, we believe that for the majority of consumer products adding additional ‘anti-bacterial’ agents is unnecessary exposure to more chemicals, often with no clear added benefit from a ‘performance’ perspective.
Call us sceptics but the term ‘antibacterial’ is quite possibly just a marketers dream for big business, particularly at worrying times like these.
That said, if you are in transit and don’t have access to soap and hot water, antibacterial gels can be a great alternative. Otherwise, you can be safe in the knowledge that standard soap and non-toxic cleaning products like ours will do a cracking job as it is.
Non-antibacterial cleaning products will already have disinfectants that act as antimicrobial agents targeting microorganisms effectively without necessarily having to ‘sterilise’ an environment or surface. Vinegar and citric acid are examples of natural disinfectants and antimicrobial agents.
For most effective use, spray the cleaning solution onto the surface and leave for 10-20 seconds before wiping with a clean cloth, simply washing away the germs with it.
Thanks for reading. We’ve used a lot of big words today, time for a self-isolating lie down.
Love + Sense,