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Hand-washing with Soap

Post Date:12/16/2020 3:59 PM
A soapy hand holding an diagram of how soap molecules can remove oil and dirt from skin

Washing your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water is probably the easiest thing you can do to protect your health.  With safe and reliable potable water delivered right to us, there’s no reason not to “soap up.”  But why use soap?  Why not just water?

Water molecules are “sticky.”  They cling to each other because of their polar properties.  Not the North and South polar, but the difference in charge polar.  A single water molecule consists of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms.  The oxygen has a slight negative charge, and the hydrogen atoms have a slight positive charge.  This is what attract the molecules to themselves.  Once 1,670,000,000,000,000,000,000 water molecules have stuck together, gravity forces them away from the rest of the water in the form of a droplet, which is a fairly sturdy structure due to the surface tension. 

This “stickiness” of water and surface tension is observable when droplets of water bead up or when a container is very slightly overfilled with water, but the water does not spill out.  Although water is a universal solvent, because of this “sticky” property, it does not interact with oils on its own. 

 

And so we introduce soap.

 

A cartoon soap molecule is shown hugging oil and looking lovingly at a water moleculeUnlike a water molecule, which is only polar, a soap molecule has both a polar “head” and a nonpolar “tail.”  The polar end of soap can interact with the water molecules, and the nonpolar end can interact with oils.  In this way soap acts as an emulsifier and can surround and remove the oils from the water.  Just a little bit of lathering allows that soap to get to work on surfaces such as our skin.  Since the germs that cause us to become sick manifest on dirt and oils which collect on our skin, the ability to remove those germs with soap is what keeps them from causing us harm.

Overall, soap is quite useful to us and having it is the reason why we don’t have to wash our hands twice – once with a polar solvent and once with a nonpolar one. 

 

To bring awareness to handwashing, we’ve published a handwashing video on our social media channels for Handwashing Awareness Week.  Follow us on our social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) for more updates.

Want to learn more? Click HERE to view a fun and educational video about soap. 
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