Coronavirus Chronicles — Mouthwash and Baby Shampoo?

Obese or not, no child should get COVID-19. Of course, conscientious parents take every precaution they can think of. In September, the Journal of Medical Virology published a peer-reviewed study seeming to indicate that some familiar consumer products could help with protection. What motivated the researchers?

Doctors have long been known to treat chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal washes of extremely diluted baby shampoo, and the reasons why that is effective are interesting. Naturally, the researchers wondered whether it could help shield a person from acquiring the virus.

To experiment with our current enemy itself requires the highest level of certification and regulation. But they wanted to get at least a general idea, so they worked with something close, or as Katherine J. Wu of The New York Times phrases it, they…

[…] looked at the effects of mouthwash and nasal rinses on a coronavirus called 229E that causes common colds — not the new coronavirus, which goes by the formal name of SARS-CoV-2, and causes far more serious disease.

The journalist spoke with virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen of Georgetown University, who allowed that while 229E can serve as “a good proxy for the new coronavirus in certain experiments,” the two are not the same. And the testing environment — a dish in a lab — is not the same as the inside of a human mouth.

Many of us grew up with the folklore that the mouth is the dirtiest part of the body, and according to a quick online search, today’s science seems to have reached the same conclusion. One of the reasons for this is the interior architecture of the mouth, with all kinds of places for microscopic critters to hide.

Promising, perhaps

The bottom line is, to be truly meaningful, clinical trials would have to employ bona fide SARS-CoV-2. It would take a boatload of unequivocally positive results to get everyone on board with mouthwash and baby shampoo. To pursue these leads would be a long and expensive quest. The study authors wrote:

While clinical trials will be necessary to confirm the virucidal potential of these products and assess their ability to limit transmission of HCoV within the general population, in the current manuscript we have demonstrated here that several commonly available healthcare products have significant virucidal properties with respect to HCoV.

While acknowledging the difficulties, they also believe that because the products “directly treat the major sites of reception and transmission,” they could “serve as a complement to other healthcare and public antiviral precautions.”

Scientists will not always step up and say that such-and-such theory is nonsense. Sometimes they gently suggest that results found by other scientists may have been “over-interpreted” which can mean, “We will give you the benefit of the doubt for the present, but you need to show us convincing evidence, sooner rather than later.” The viewpoint of Elizabeth Wu is stricter:

Relying on mouthwash or a nasal rinse to rid the body of infectious virus would be about as futile as trimming the top of a cluster of weeds, paying the roots little mind, and expecting the garden pests to disappear.

But doesn’t viral infection go by load? Isn’t it possible that one of these measures could reduce the viral load by the crucial amount — just enough to make the difference between getting sick or not?

Bruce Y. Lee of proposes a commonsense compromise:

One way mouthwash, baby shampoo, and nasal rinse solutions could be helpful against coronaviruses and maybe the Covid-19 coronavirus is to clean things when using a disinfectant or another cleaning methods is not safe or practical. Examples include your toothbrush, a mouth guard, a set of vampire teeth, or anything that you may put into your mouth, nose, or other opening in your body.

While someone might not rush out to buy the recommended products, there could be a bottle or two of them around the place already, so why not use them to wipe down countertops, door handles, faucets, household phones, the grab-bars of walkers, children’s toys, and other vulnerable surfaces? It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Lowering the transmission and spread of human coronavirus,”, 09/17/20
Source: “No, Mouthwash Will Not Save You From the Coronavirus,”, 10/21/20
Source: “Can Mouthwash Protect You Against Covid-19 Coronavirus? What This Study Really Said,”, 10/22/20
Image by Judith Doyle/CC BY-ND 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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