(CNN) – Washing our hands with soap and water is one of the most important things we can do right now to help stop the spread of coronavirus, the flu and other illnesses. It does that by breaking down the cells of the virus itself.
Underneath the spiky outside of the coronavirus are the outer layers of cells, which are made up of lipids. When you wash dishes covered in fats like grease or butter with only water, nothing happens. The same thing happens to the virus germs.
But add soap, and the grease, or in this case the lipid layer, and it breaks down. That means it can’t bind to your skin. Then when you rinse your hands at the end, it washes the virus off.
To be completely effective, make sure you’re really scrubbing with the soap, building up bubbles and getting all parts of your hands and under your nails for 20 seconds.
If you’re out and about, hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol can be used to sanitize your hands as well. But just like with traditional washing, you really need to rub the sanitizer all over your hands. And while it kills the virus, it’s not rinsing it off, like with water.
Remember, handwashing is just one of five ways recommended to stop the spread of COVID-19. The others are covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cough, avoiding touching your face, practicing social distancing by staying at least six feet away from others and if you’re sick, stay home.