Why is it so hard to wash the ‘heat’ off your hands after handling/cutting chillies?


Why is it so hard to wash the ‘heat’ off your hands after handling/cutting chillies?

In: 6

The heat effect is caused by capsaicin. Capsaicin is an oil and won’t mix with water, if you’re not using something like dish soap which is specifically designed to remove oil, you’re going to have a hard time getting the capsaicin off your hands.

Capsaicin, the molecule chiefly responsible for that heat sensation, is non-polar. That means it doesn’t properly dissolve in water, much like oil (ever tried rinsing out a greasy pan?).

Soap will do a decent job of washing it off. It also dissolves very well in alcohol — the mostly pure stuff, not a 4% beer.

The “heat” is from a chemical called capsaicin. The problem is that it’s a thick sticky oil. Imagine putting olive oil or Vaseline on your hands and trying to rinse it off – nearly impossible without soap because oil and water don’t mix. It’s the same with capsaicin. It can’t mix with water so the water can’t carry it off your hands. Soap works by allowing oil and water to mix, so you need to scrub with soap to remove chili heat.

Also capsaicin is extremely spicy in even micro quantities making it worse because if *any* is left behind your hands are still hot.

Dish soap doesn’t do a very good job at dissolving capsaicin (the hot chemical) on it’s own. You can dissolve it using cooking oil or alcoholic hand sanitizer, and wash that off using soap. If you go the hand sanitizer route, add liquid soap before the alcohol evaporates, then water. If you skip the soap, the water will just make the capsaicin redeposit onto your hands.