How does soap kill germs?

Scrubbing with soap for twenty seconds is one of the best ways to protect yourself — and the people and things you touch — from disease-causing germs. But how exactly does soapy water kill disease-causing bacteria and viruses that infect us?

Soap’s germicidal superpowers are built into its molecular structure: a “head” attached to a long “tail,” according to Dr. Lee Riley, physician, professor, and chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the University of California (UC Berkeley). The head is hydrophilic, or water-loving, while the tail is hydrophobic—water-shy or water-repellent. That hydrophobic tail has an affinity for fats and all bacteria and some viruses – including SARS-CoV-2, which Coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 – have a lipid membrane that makes them vulnerable to the fat-penetrating tail of a soap molecule. How does soap kill germs?

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