Soap and water is a first line of defence, right? Clean hands are critical to getting rid of germs.
Absolutely indisputably so.
Except soap and water doesn’t kill germs. It merely removes them – washes them away down the plughole.
Because all it is is water (H2 O) and sodium stearate (C18 H35 Na O2). Clever stuff for separating dirt and stuff from skin – but way underpowered at zapping germs dead.
And washing your hands only protects… your hands.
But viruses and bacteria surround us all the time – hands, body, face, mouth. They’re even inside us.
Most of the time we’re safe enough. Until the heavies show up: MRSA, c.difficile, salmonella, campylobacter – the usual suspects. Wash your hands of those, they’re still clinging on everywhere else. Murderers, if you give them half a chance.
Remember your hospital swab tests? In your mouth, your nose and your groin. Still not good enough is it? Because pathogens are up in the air too. Billions and billions of them. Wash them off, they’ll settle right back again. A never ending process.
Killing germs takes real power. And fortunately you’ve got it readily enough to hand – that amazing stuff from the Nineteenth Century, hydrogen peroxide.
How powerful is it? You’ve heard of peroxide blondes? This is the stuff that changes hair colour. Super-bleach, hyper-stripper, and powerful oxidiser.
Oxidiser – hold that thought.
H2 O2, like water with extra oxygen.
Oxygen powered. From ὀξύς, the Greek word for acid. The same stuff that we breathe. The same potent substance that attacks our bodies every second we’re alive, requiring our skin to regrow itself every 27 days. It burns by shoving oxygen atoms at things that come in contact with it.
It’s super powerful too. Back in the day, the Royal Navy built two experimental submarines powered by hydrogen peroxide. Called the Explorer-class, they were super-fast boats, with a speed of nearly 27 knots underwater on just one turbine.
Trouble was, at the super-concentration they were using it at, the stuff was unstable. Navy wags took to calling it the Exploder-class. Amazingly powerful, and only replaced when nuclear power came along.
That kind of oxidiser.
Now imagine that going up against C. difficile, MRSA, SARS, salmonella or E. coli. Out in the open – floating in air, on the skin, or on high-traffic contact surfaces – it is vulnerable and defenceless. It doesn’t have the human body to protect it.
Against a fine mist spray of hydrogen peroxide, there is only one outcome. The pathogens are ripped to pieces and cease to exist. All of them, not just one type. And the room is sterile. Not a source of infection anywhere.
Until one of us humans walks in, dragging a cloud of new microbes along with us.
But better protected than we ever were with soap and water – though of course, that is still necessary.
So the story continues.
Originally posted 2014-08-05 14:28:44.