The 20 Second Rule

novel coronavirus, image by Gianluca Tomasello

Warnings to wash your hands are all over the place, now, and with them come two rules: use warm (or hot) water and wash for at least twenty seconds. There is a reason for this.

Soap performs one function, and that is not to kill microorganisms. What soap does is make your skin slippery. As the friction coefficient between your skin and the bacteria decreases, they can’t cling and they (along with dirt, dust and whatever else you might have on your hands) slide into the water and down the drain. Because of this, you need to allow the soap time to lather your skin properly and enough time for the foreign matter to be pushed off your skin. A few seconds of rinse may be enough to get the larger chunks off, but it’s not enough to actually clean your hands.

There is a second function of many soaps, and that is to kill microscopic creatures using antibacterial agents. These are intentionally limited in their efficacy by the corporations manufacturing them, and for a good reason. Our bodies have natural defenses against microorganism – beneficial bacteria which thrive on our skin and like to assault (and often eat) foreign entities. These are helpful boons to our immune system, and we want to help them. They are particularly useful to those with compromised immunity due to medical conditions or medicinal regimens. Because of this, the antibacterial nature of soaps is toned down, designed to minimize, not eradicate, all bacteria from the washed area.

The 20 second regimen with standard antibacterial soap is designed to maximize removal of invasive creatures while allowing as much of the beneficial bacterium to survive.

Hand sanitizer is designed to eradicate all bacteria from the skin. It’s absolutely helpful, but it’s akin to carpet-bombing an area rather than having troops move in. When the area in question includes friendly personnel (the helpful bacteria) and useful structures (skin cells) the use of aggressive techniques should reasonably be kept to a minimum, even while recognizing that in a dire fight such actions may be necessary.

In this case, as the “friendlies” aren’t likely to hold much of a grudge if their brethren are killed and the useful structures will rebuild over time, the carpet bombing sometimes becomes a useful option; it’s just unwise to rely on it exclusively.

Few viruses can infiltrate the body through a skin cell. They need time to find an open wound (even a small one such as a nick from having cut your fingernails too closely or a scrape from a cat claw) in order to get into your body. The most common form of invasion comes through one of your orifices. This is the reason people are cautioned to minimize the touching of their faces. Eyes, nose, mouth, and even ears are all openings into the main body and lack a protective layer of dead skin cells. Likewise, waste removal orifices are prime targets.

Wiping down a public toilet seat with an antiviral agent like sanitizer before using it is helpful. Rubbing it down with soap is not, unless you’re rubbing it for a while and then pouring water over it… you’d be much better off just using a paper protective ring.

It’s easier to be safe and prepared when you know the reason behind an instruction. We hope our readers remain safe, and can help quell panic from their friends and family members by having valid information available when uncertainties arise.

Figuring out how to get them to ask the right questions and listen to the honest answers has been our fight for more than a year, now. Stay well, everyone!

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.