How does soap kill germs?

Twenty seconds of scrubbing with soap 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 suds kill pathogenic bacteria and viruses that infect us?

Soap’s germ-zapping superpowers are built into its molecular structure: a “head” attached to a long “tail,” according to Dr. Lee Riley, physician, professor and chairman of the Division 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 fearing or water repelling. This hydrophobic tail has an affinity for fat, and all bacteria and some viruses – including SARS-CoV-2, coronavirus which causes the disease COVID-19 – have a lipid membrane, which makes it vulnerable to the fat puncture tail of a soap molecule.

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