Since the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in China in December, health officials have been asking people to follow a few measures to safeguard themselves from the COVID-19 which include personal hygiene.

Washing hands with soap is one of the simplest and the most effective ways of killing off viruses and bacteria. But why is this household, common item so important to combat this new Coronavirus?

The professor who explained why soap is useful

Palli Thordarson
Palli Thordarson Twitter/ @PalliThordarson

An Australian professor at the School of Chemistry of the University of New South Wales, Palli Thordarson, has takenit to the social media platform Twitter to explain some of the molecular chemistry behind it to answer the question.

In a Tweet, Thordarson stated, "It is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer. A two-part thread about soap, viruses and supramolecular chemistry #COVID19"

The explanation behind using soap

As per the Australian professor, viruses tend to be made up of three things, a nucleic acid genome (their genetic material, DNA and RNA), protein, which encases the nucleic acid as well as aids viral replication inside a host body and a fatty outer layer of lipids.

It should be noted that the connection between these three component parts provides the structure of the virus but there are no covalent bonds in action that would provide a more stable structure. As per Thordarson, the viral self-assembly is based on weak "non-covalent" interactions between RNA and lipids. Together they act like a Velcro so it is very hard to break up the self-assembled viral particle.

Soap breaks viral particle

But the self-assembled viral particle will be breakable with soap which is good at dissolving the lipid layer that surrounds the virus. It undoes all those other weak bonds within the virus and when it happens the virus effectively falls apart.

While explaining in a series of tweets, Thordarson mentioned that soap contains fat-like compounds which is called amphiphiles, similar to the lipids found in the virus membrane. When the soap comes in contact with such fatty substances it binds with them and causes them to disconnect from the virus and forces the virus to discharge from the skin.

The Australian professor, Thordarson said: