Image: Soap suds on hands

Do You See the Ancient Superhero In This Photo?!

While the toilet often gets all the credit for its life-saving measures in the bathroom (and rightly so), we want to celebrate the unsung hero that often sits right near it.  Though it’s been around for thousands of years, this often overlooked substance is one of our most powerful tools in fending off deadly forces, completely destroying viruses and sending those bad boys down the drain!

That’s right, folks, every time you wash your hands from now on, you’re going to find a whole lot of wonder in those suds! We’re talking about the awesomeness of soap. All soap: foaming, gel, bar, smelling like roses or maybe with bits of oatmeal inside; whatever you’ve got, it’s your best friend.

I’m sure you’ve been hearing a lot about this super-defender of the human body, and if you’ve been wondering why, get ready to cheer for soap in an epic microscopic battle taking place multiple times a day right on your skin!

Image: Soap suds on hands
Source: Pixabay

The Virus Annihilator! 

Maybe you’re like me and you have a hard time understanding how something works when you can’t see it. So, I’ve been imagining viruses sort of like burdocks.

When dry and ready to disperse their seeds, these prickly little balls of unpleasantness hitch a ride on passersby, forming masses in their hair or clothing. These are infuriating to remove. And as someone who grew up on a farm with hair down to her knees, I can tell you one of the best ways I’ve found to get them out is bit-by-bit (unless you want a pair of scissors to do the work).

That same action is what soap does to the viruses on your skin! Viruses stick to our skin just like burdocks stuck to my hair. Water isn’t able to get them off by itself, due to its surface tension 1. But when you bring soap to the party, it tears those viruses apart; leaving them in pieces, inactive and harmless, to swirl down the drain.

But, c’mon, don’t rush them — they need at least 20 seconds to do all of that work. Vox brings us really close to the action to show us why!

Via: Vox 2

It’s pretty amazing to see how the soap literally yanks those viruses apart with their tails! Thanks so much to Vox for releasing this video to inform all of us of the importance of keeping our soap close. You can find more of their fantastic journalism over on their website, YouTube channel, or by keeping up with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! 

Soap’s Clean History!

Soap isn’t anything new. A recipe that archaeologists found on a clay tablet suggests that people have been making this virus annihilator since at least the ancient Babylonians, around 2800 B.C. And bars of soap have even been uncovered in the volcanic ruins of Pompeii from 78 A.D! 3

People have been rubbing the same concoction of two ingredients: some sort of fat (animal or plant derived) and an alkali (salt from the ashes of plants 4) on themselves in one form or another for thousands of years, but we’ve only really known about viruses for a little over 100. Scientists first uttered the words “virus” after 1898 when studying an affliction on tobacco leaves! 5

Now, armed with our knowledge and bars of soap, we can combat these unseen forces multiple times a day.

How awesome is that?!

If you’d like to hear more about the big, no…massive impacts that just washing our hands can have, I highly suggest watching this TED Talk from public health expert and soaps #1 fan, Myriam Sidibe. She tells us how just the simple act of washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds can prevent millions of children from dying every year.

Take a look:

Via: TED 6

Explore more great talks from the TED stage in our TED category! We’ve watched and loved every video in there.

Thinking about the last time you washed your hands, yet?

I’m guessing that you’re doing it more than ever these days, particularly after watching these two videos. And good for you! It’s the easiest way to care for ourselves and or loved ones. Who knew that when my aunt gave me lavender-scented homemade soap last year that she was handing me a weapon for protection. (Thanks, Joanne! Love you!)

There’s a whole unseen world happening around us, on us, and in us. If you’d like to think about ones that aren’t viruses and are actually pretty cool after reading this article, jump into the following circle. I’ve collected some of my favorite articles from the Goodness Exchange about the microscopic world, from beautiful, jewel-like diatoms to the party happening in your gut. I’m sure you’ll find something fascinatingly small to your liking!

Astoundingly Intricate Designs of the Smallest Form

What if beauty was all around us, in puddles and drainage ditches? Well, it most likely is and here’s someone who can show us!

Read More
Reinventing Plastic with Methane and Microbes

How close are we to reinventing plastic? Well, it looks like a future with easily accessible, truly biodegradable plastics that can replace the harmful plastics we use today is right around the corner—and it uses the power of bacteria! 

Read More
Meet Your Microbiome!

Did you know you are home to millions of invisible creatures? Say hello your microbiome, the ecosystem of microscopic organisms that help keep you alive!

Read More

When we stop and get curious about the things we interact with every day, we can uncover more little bits of joy than we ever imagined. I’m having a hard time not being just thrilled that I get to use the toilet and soap these days after thinking about everything I learned from putting together this article!

Stay open to new possibilities! Nothing’s boring if you ask the right questions; not even soap.

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein 

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  1. Mother Earth Living. “Slippery History: How Soap Works.” Mother Earth Living, 2018, Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.
  2. Vox. “How Soap Kills the Coronavirus.” YouTube, 2020, Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.
  3. McNearney, Allison. “1950s Lessons in Germ-Fighting from a Giant Bar of Talking Soap.” HISTORY, 21 Feb. 2018, Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.
  4. “Definition of ALKALI.” Merriam-Webster.Com, 2020, Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.
  5. Lecoq, H. “Discovery of the First Virus, the Tobacco Mosaic Virus: 1892 or 1898?” Comptes Rendus de l’Academie Des Sciences. Serie III, Sciences de La Vie, vol. 324, no. 10, 2001, pp. 929–33,, 10.1016/s0764-4469(01)01368-3. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.
  6. Sidibe, Myriam. “The Simple Power of Hand-Washing.” Ted.Com, TED Talks, 2020, Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.
Published: April 20, 2020

Image: Samantha Burns

Sam Burns

Former Editor-In-Chief

Sam wrote and edited hundreds of articles during her time on the Goodness Exchange team from 2016-2021. She wrote about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the Goodness Exchange, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses.

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