As we’re bombarded daily with new information about the Coronavirus, one thing has remained steadfast throughout. The importance of washing our hands. In fact, it seems as if this one simple act, along with social distancing, is our biggest weapon in the war against this deadly virus. Hand sanitizer has been sold out in almost every shop but many of us aren’t big fans of this skin drying, chemical heavy gel. I, for one, would much rather use something made from gentle, natural ingredients. So the question is – Does alcohol-free hand sanitizer kills the Coronavirus?
In A Word, No…
I wish I could give you a recipe for a lovely scented, all natural, non-drying hand sanitizer that would protect you from this virus, but I can’t. If you’re using hand sanitizer to clean your hands then it needs to be at least 60% alcohol in order to be effective.
But please don’t rely on hand sanitizer alone. Good old soap and water is by far the most effective way to kill off the Coronavirus. Let hand sanitizer be your stand in when you are away from the sink, but every opportunity you have to use soap and water, use it.
How Alcohol Works
Alcohol at 60% or higher kills a range of viruses and bacteria. It does this by unfolding their proteins, a process call “denaturation”. When they unfold they get stuck together and become inactive.
Some viruses have an outer wrapping called an “envelope” which helps them attach to other cells. Alcohol is effective at killing these types of virus by damaging the envelope, leaving them unable to attach to anything. Coronavirus is an enveloped virus so alcohol kills it.
You would think that the higher the alcohol content the more effective it would be but this isn’t actually true. The denaturation process works faster when the alcohol is mixed with a little water.
Pure alcohol would evaporate too fast to have a good chance of killing all the baddies. It would also be terribly irritating to your skin, drying it out and leaving it so sore you’d probably avoid using it which would defeat the object.
Hand sanitizers with 60% alcohol usually have an emollient added so they’ll do a good job of killing viruses and bacteria without completely drying out your skin.
Why Soap And Water Work Best
Palli Thordarson, a professor at the University of New South Wales School of Chemistry, released a series of tweets about just what happens when you wash your hands with soap and water. I think there are about 30 in all, you can check out the full thread here.
He explains how soap and water works to deactivate the virus, and goes on to mention why the use of alternatives just isn’t as effective.
Later on in the thread he talks about how the virus interacts with the different surfaces it lands on. Flat surfaces such as steel, porcelain and some plastics are difficult for the virus to stick to, whereas rougher surfaces such as wood, fabric and skin interact well with the virus, giving it plenty to hold on to. That’s why just rinsing your face with water won’t do a whole lot to budge the microbes.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
Sad, but true. In an age where most people are trying to live a more Eco-friendly life it goes against the grain for us to be switching back to chemicals… but switch we must. Unfortunately, it’s gonna take more than a vinegar and baking soda wash to keep us safe from this virus.
Bleach is the fastest way to rid your surfaces of the Coronavirus and any other nasty microbes that might be hanging about. Dilute it with water and leave it on non porous surfaces for about 10 minutes before wiping. Never mix bleach with anything other than water, and use it within 24 hours as its disinfecting ability fades with time. Wear gloves and try not to breathe in the fumes. Make sure you keep the house well ventilated to get rid of that horrible bleach smell quickly. Bleach will discolour fabric so be careful with it.
Isopropyl Alcohol that has a content higher than 70% can be put directly onto surfaces. Leave it for about 30 seconds then wipe clean. This is fine to use on most surfaces, but it can discolour some plastics.
Hydrogen Peroxide can be used undiluted in a spray bottle. Spray it on surfaces and leave for a minute or two before wiping. This is good for spraying into hard to wipe spots. As with bleach, be careful not to get it on fabric.
You should wash surfaces down with water and detergent before disinfecting, and remember to clean doorknobs, light switches, handles, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks as well.
Sorry, It Won’t Work
There’s lots of recipes online for making your own hand sanitizers and surface cleaners, I was even considering adding some but then I thought it’s not the right time. Those organic, natural recipes are great for a normal day, when we’re dealing with normal issues, but right now we’re at war and according to the scientists the only way we’ll triumph is a chemical attack.
Sorry, didn’t mean to sound quite so dramatic. But I’m afraid our good old favourites just aren’t up to the task this time.
Vinegar, as I said before, is fine for the everyday cleaning in a normal environment but there is no evidence that it can kill viruses.
Vodka has been banded about as an alternative to hand sanitizer. You may as well mix it with tonic and enjoy it because it’s not going to do anything to kill viruses on your hands. It’s only 40% proof and alcohol needs to be at least 60% to effectivly kill viruses.
Teatree Oil, an old fave and generally a pretty good antiseptic. While there have been some studies that suggest it may have an effect against the herpes simplex virus, there is no evidence that it can kill coronaviruses.
Make Your Peace
So there you have it. What will work and what won’t right now. Soap and water is the biggest weapon we have in our arsenal. Washing our hands thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, and regularly is something that’s so easy to do. But the things that are easy to do are also easy not to do so be aware of that.
The lovely, organic recipes are going to have to be put aside for a little while, it’s time for the big guns now I’m afraid. Hopefully, the harsher we fight, the quicker this fight will be over and we can get back to looking after our planet as well as ourselves.
If you’ve heard of any natural ingredients that have been proven to kill the coronavirus please share in the comments below. I’d love to heard.