“Is Soap Better Than Sanitiser?”: Fact-Checking Advice For Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

by | Mar 20, 2020 | Blogs

Covid-19, referred to commonly as the ‘Coronavirus’, has spread at an alarming rate around the world. Having spent a fair amount of time on social media over the past few months, we have witnessed a worrying amount of disinformation and misinformation on the topic of prevention. This article hopes to shine a light on current best-practices, utilising only official or reputable sources in the process. We will do our best to update the information in this article as official guidance changes. We at ADS hope this will be of use to many of you, and hope you take every precaution possible to aid in flattening the curve of infection.

About Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that attacks the lungs and airways. It comes from a family of viruses which also includes MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), as well as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Coronaviruses originate in animals, but in some instances can be transmitted to humans. Similarly to the Ebola pandemic, bats are a likely source and carrier of the virus, though this has yet to be confirmed. Pangolins are another species considered a possible source and carrier of the virus. The symptoms of coronavirus (as quoted from the NHS website) are as follow:
  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)”

If you find yourself with symptoms, it is best to self-isolate for 7 days. If you live with someone who has symptoms, it is best to self-isolate for 14 days. This is because the virus’s incubation period (the time between catching it and symptoms actually developing) is anywhere up to 14 days (5 days is the most common period according to the World Health Organisation). So with that established, let’s move onto some of the rumours going around…

Fact Check: Hand sanitiser is better than soap (and vice-versa)

There seems to be some debate over which method is most optimal for preventing transmission of the virus. The truth is that both are effective if done properly. It is recommended that a hand sanitiser composed of 60% alcohol or more is required to kill the virus. This must be applied all over your hands, without missing any nooks or crannies otherwise the virus may persist. Additionally, over-using sanitiser can cause your skin’s natural oils to dry out, leaving your skin prone to damage and subsequently infection. Due to the sterile connotations that sanitiser carries, it is no surprise that people feel it is the better tool for the job. As a result, it has become gold dust… or toilet paper… But fear not, because good old soap is just as good, if not better.

“Coronavirus particles are surrounded by a fatty outer layer called an envelope and usually appear spherical, as seen under an electron microscope, with a crown or “corona” of club-shaped spikes on their surface.” (NewScientist)

The best way to think of coronavirus is that it’s a bit like a dishwasher tablet: it has a soft membrane on the outside which houses all the gubbins within. Except when the virus’s membrane is dismantled, the nasty stuff inside becomes inactive and ‘dies’. As hand sanitiser disrupts covid-19’s enveloping membrane, so too does soap. However, soap doesn’t have the same strict conditions as sanitiser does to be effective, nor does it carry the same risks if too much is used. Just remember to wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds to ensure it has enough time to empty out those envelopes.

For a deeper dive into the science, check out this video from Vox below which demonstrates how soap dismantles the virus:

Bottom Line: Ultimately, both methods do the job, but please don’t go out of your way to horde these resources. Remember, you are only as healthy as your neighbour, and you only need a small amount of each for it to be effective. Bar soap is just as effective as the bottled variety, so try searching for that as well next time you’re in the supermarket.

Fact Check: Ibuprofen makes coronavirus symptoms worse

There have been a number of false stories circulating around Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp regarding coronavirus patients suffering worse symptoms (or even dying from the illness) as a result of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), namely ibuprofen. There have been studies which suggest ibuprofen may cause complications in those suffering from respiratory infections. Additionally, NSAIDs are known to potentially cause side-effects for those with pre-existing conditions (ie. those already at greater risk from the virus). The WHO had initially advised against taking NSAIDs, unless you have been prescribed them in which case do as your doctor advises. They have since revised their position as there is no clear evidence to suggest it causes issues in coronavirus patients. With that said we’d recommend err’ing on the side of caution and sticking to paracetamol or tylenol as the first line of defence.

Bottom Line: Although there is no evidence to suggest ibuprofen and other NSAIDs cause complications in coronavirus patients in particular, there is evidence to suggest it can cause issues in those with pre-existing conditions. Listen to your doctor’s advice if you have been prescribed an NSAID, otherwise stick to paracetamol or tylenol to be safe if you can.  

Fact Check: Coronavirus is man-made

We didn’t really want to touch on this completely absurd topic, but we’ve seen everything from “coronavirus was made by the Chinese for population control”, to “coronavirus was engineered as a bio-weapon”. If you see any of this tinfoil hat-ery online, take a moment to chuckle before scrolling/swiping on. The virus, according to the Scripps Research Institute, is an evolved form of a previous coronavirus strain which had developed a proficiency for targeting and sticking to particular human cells. If you want to read further into this, you can do so here.

Bottom Line: It really isn’t.

Fact Check: Face masks are completely ineffective against the virus

The short answer? Yes and no. The long answer? Regular surgical masks, whilst good for keeping out pathogens, are of little use when it comes to viruses. However, if you have unfortunately contracted the virus, then it is worth wearing one to help prevent the spread of it through coughing. Whilst it is possible to gain benefits from using an N95 respirator mask, which heavily-filters incoming air and does provide effective protection from the virus, there are caveats. Firstly, these masks require specialised training to put on and remove properly. Furthermore, they are incredibly uncomfortable, as they are fit tight around the face to ensure no viral air can enter. As a result of this and the heavy filtering, they can be difficult to breathe through, which may aggravate those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. The most important factor to consider here though is the fact there is currently a global shortage of these respirators due to the outbreak. Therefore, we ask that you don’t go hunting around for them, as these should only be used by the healthcare professionals currently risking their health to care for ours.

Right now, the most effective methods for preventing the catching/spread of coronavirus are:


  • Social distancing (especially if you come into contact with someone who has symptoms, or you yourself develop them).
  • Regular hand-washing/sanitising.
  • Avoiding the touching of eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, be it with a tissue (dispose of immediately), or your bent elbow.
  • Maintaining distance from others who cough or sneeze (The WHO recommend a minimum distance of at least 1m (3ft)).

Bottom Line: If you have already displayed coronavirus symptoms and are coughing, then a standard surgical mask can help contain the spread, but will not prevent you from contracting it. Practice the prevention measures already outlined by the NHS. Do NOT go looking for N95 respirator masks as our healthcare professionals need them far more than we do.

The coronavirus is a major threat to our communities due largely to how contagious it is. As we move forward into the great unknown, we must do our bit to keep our wits about ourselves, and criticise everything we read online. Remember: just because lots of people say something is true, that doesn’t mean it is! We at ADS wish you all the best and look forward to getting through this, together. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below, and we’ll do our best to get back to you ASAP.

All the best, Team ADS.