Disinfecting Wipes: Good or Evil?

Background:

The use of disinfectant wipes has become increasingly popular since their invention. Before them, soap and water were always the go-to methods of disinfecting and cleaning surfaces. As society modernizes and convenience becomes more sought out, disinfecting wipes have become easily marketable. Today, one can find disinfecting wipes in almost every household and even in many workplaces. They are made to be convenient because they are ready to use and easily disposable, as well as cost-efficient. The packaging itself advertises that it “kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria”, “kills Staph, E. coli, Salmonella, Strep, Kleb”, and “kills cold and flu viruses”.

Image for post
Image for post

Many of us simply read the front label and believe it to be true, but how many of us actually look into what we are using around our children and cleaning our homes with? Here you will find a list of ingredients and their effects on our health. Are disinfecting wipes as effective as advertised? And are they safe to use around the house on a daily basis?

My Story:

I used to use disinfecting wipes everywhere! On the counter, the trash can, sometimes even dishes for easy “washing” at work. This obsession with disinfecting wipes started in college for me. Living in a dorm it was difficult to clean with your standard soap and water since I did not have a sink in my room. I was always busy and on the run, it made sense for me to just keep stocked on disinfecting wipes and to just use them on everything. As I got older and moved into a house, this habit stuck with me. Looking back, I see how ridiculous using them on everything sounds, but I did it out of convenience. I assumed they were safe to use since they are advertised as killing 99.9% of germs quick and easy. Little did I know all of the harmful chemicals that I was spreading around my dorm room and now my house without even realizing it. Not to mention that, to my surprise, I had actually been using them wrong all of these years!

I started doing some research on the wipes that I had been using religiously to find out what I was exposing myself to. I started on the Environmental Working Group website. To my surprise, I came to find out that Clorox wipes only discloses some and not all of their ingredients! I thought to myself, “What could they possibly be hiding?”. But I read on and found that the major ingredients used are Alkyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride, Alkyl Dimethyl Ethylbenzyl Ammonium Chloride, Alkyl Dimethyl Ethylbenzyl Ammonium Chlorides, and Isopropyl Alcohol. These ingredients are known to cause moderate concern for respiratory effects. No wonder I was having a hard time breathing! Just kidding, but I don’t want products that can potentially make my life difficult by messing with my health. I continued researching and found that there are also antimicrobial agents used in disinfecting wipes. Research on antimicrobial agents has found that they are not necessary in everyday products like soaps, lotions, and disinfecting wipes. You might be wondering, “What are antimicrobials anyways?” Let me explain. Antimicrobial agents are any substances that kill or slow the growth of microbes. These are substances that can be derived from naturally occurring substances or can be synthetic. According to Microban, in the United States, and many other countries, they are highly regulated in order to ensure that the products that use them are safe for consumers and the environment and ultimately provide value to the consumers. After reading this I decided to do more research because this company made it seem like antimicrobials are good for the environment and safe. The more research I did, the more I realized that this website was simply trying to make antimicrobials look positive in the public eye. That’s the thing about chemicals. Companies who rely on them for the revenue need to publicly support everything about them but they do not disclose the full science behind these chemicals. Some studies suggest that the constant use of them leads to everyday bacteria developing a resistance to them. So, let me get this straight, I’m not actually killing the germs and bacteria. I’m making them stronger? This really came as a surprise to me. How could I have been using these wipes all these years and not known that I was aiding in the development of some kind of super bacteria?

The Science:

Here are some of the reasons why antimicrobials should be kicked to the curb:

1) A leading microbiologist with the FDA, Colleen Rogers, has found that there is no current evidence that OTC (over-the-counter) antibacterial soap or antimicrobial wipes are any more effective than plain soap and water. She even went as far to say, “New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antimicrobials may outweigh the benefits.”

2) Triclosan and Triclocarban (common chemicals in antibiotics and seen in disinfecting wipes) have been shown to significantly alter thyroid functions in rats, cause endocrine disruption in aquatic wildlife, and cause “progressive carcinogenesis of human breast cells from non-cancerous to pre-malignant.” That’s just saying it’s a proven contributor of cancer. And if you’re thinking our bodies just expel this stuff before it causes damage, think again: “Regular use of products that contain triclosan appears to contribute to concentrations detected in humans.” And “Several studies have found triclosan in urine, serum, and breast milk.” I found Triclosan to be the biggest reason why I shouldn’t use disinfectant wipes anymore. Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial and antifungal agent, which is what makes it popular in many household items. Triclosan not only has these effects on juvenile rats, but it has also been shown to bioaccumulate and have endocrine effects in fish and amphibians. The use of this chemical in disinfecting wipes is quietly causing changes in consumers bodies without their awareness. Triclosan has not been banned not because it is safe, but because there has not been enough research to prove that it is unsafe for humans.

I then began to look more closely into what the label states. And here is what I found:

Image for post
Image for post

Apparently, I was supposed to be washing my hand after use? Oh. So, I guess that means I shouldn’t have been using them on my dishes because if they aren’t meant to be on your hands, they are definitely NOT meant to be touching your food.

Turns out I had been using them wrong all along. Here are the directions from the Clorox website about how they should be used on countertops:

Image for post
Image for post

Now, can you imagine how many wipes it will take to make sure my countertop looks visibly wet for 4 minutes! That is no longer convenient or affordable. And not to mention I have to rinse my “clean” counter with water before I can use it again. It’s starting to sound as if using soap and water is actually easier and possibly safer than using these beloved disinfecting wipes.

My Solutions:

So, I bet now you’re thinking, “What should I do? I can’t believe I’ve been using these so willy-nilly!” But, don’t fret! We have all been there and like I said, I used disinfecting wipes religiously and after all this research I had to make some major changes. If I can do it, you can too. Here are a few suggestions for replacing disinfecting wipes that I found effective:

1) This is the simplest and most effective alternative I have found:

a. Cut up paper towels to the right size for your cleaning jobs. I usually make two sizes: one is a paper towel cut in quarters and the other is that size cut in four again, or 1/16 of a paper towel.

b. Store them next to a spray bottle of cleaner. I use a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in two cups of water. You could also use diluted white vinegar, witch hazel, or lemon juice.

c. Whenever you have a cleaning job, grab the appropriately sized paper towel and spray it to saturation with your solution and start cleaning.

2) You can also pre-soak your towels and keep them in an airtight container so they’re ready the second you need them.

3) Here is a helpful comprehensive list of homemade cleaners that are a lot safer to use on the daily.

4) Watch this video for a quick rundown of homemade cleaners.

Alternatives you can buy:

Cleaning and disinfecting are always going to be a great part of our lives and important for our health and well-being. Therefore, it is important to make sure we are using products that clean, disinfect, and are also safe for our health. I remember having used products that I thought would clean better because they used strong chemicals, but too many chemicals can be detrimental to your health and chemicals that are too strong can many times have more negative effects than positive effects. After researching Clorox wipes, which were a product that I was using all the time, I had to find new products that would disinfect better and would be safer for me to use around myself and my pets. My first instinct was to just make my own disinfecting wipes from natural products, and for a while, these homemade wipes worked just fine. Unfortunately, making these wipes takes a lot of time and once I began working full time while also going to school full time, time was something I did not have a lot of. I began researching products that would clean well, disinfect, and would be cost effective. I have created a short list of some of my favorites that will fit in everyone’s budget.

Clean well is number one on my list of safe disinfecting wipes. This option the most expensive on the list but it is also made with all organic ingredients. All of Clean Well’s products are based on a proprietary blend of botanicals, primarily Thyme Oil, that give them their disinfecting properties and make then both antibacterial and antiviral, killing 99.9% of all household germs. The only downside to this product is that it does smell like Thyme, so if you are not a big fan of Thyme, these wipes may not be for you. Clean Well Botanical Disinfecting Wipes are very convenient and are safe to use every household surface, like the tables, countertops, and even the bathroom. The best part of these wipes is not only that they clean, disinfect, and deodorize, but they are also safe to use around children and pets and there is no rinsing or wiping required.

Dapple, is the next best on my list of safe disinfecting wipes. These are marketed as safe for children and pride themselves is being convenient and able to quickly remove sticky and grimy residue. They are powerful yet gentle enough to use around children and pets. Dapple Pure and Clean wipes are free of artificial fragrances, dyes, parabens, formaldehyde, and alcohol. They are plant based and not tested on animals.

Babyganics is one of my favorite alternatives, that is the most affordable. These have the ease of pre-moistened wipes and clean safely and effectively. Environmental Working Group gave these wipes an A+, with only very minor concerns. These wipes are biodegradable, non-toxic, and are packaged in a handy reusable pouch. I believe these are great because they are safe enough to use on children toys and furniture. Babyganics all-purpose surface wipes contain no ammonia, bleach, phosphates, phthalates, sulfates, or artificial fragrances or dyes. The cleaning agent is plant-based, contains no harsh chemicals, and is never tested on animals. They are safe to use on all surfaces while also disinfecting 99% of germs.

The most cost-effective and simplest alternative is making homemade cleansers and using disposable paper towels. Here is a quick recipe for the most cost-effective alternative I have found, and that I prefer when I have the time to prepare it.

1. Cut up paper towels to the right size for your cleaning jobs. I usually make two sizes: one is a paper towel cut in quarters and the other is that size cut in four again, or 1/16 of a paper towel.

2. Store them next to a spray bottle of cleaner. I use a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in two cups of water. You could also use diluted white vinegar, witch hazel, or lemon juice.

3. Whenever you have a cleaning job, grab the appropriately sized paper towel and spray it to saturation with your solution and start cleaning.

Results:

Now, I won’t lie and say that making this change has been easy. It is definitely not as convenient as spending a couple bucks at the store and having disinfecting wipes to last me the month, but I feel a lot better knowing that I am no longer inviting dangerous chemicals into my home. I have healthy alternatives and I know exactly what I’m using around my home. I feel a lot better knowing that what I’m using on my counters is safe and will not have negative effects on my family.

References:

Cleaning and decontamination efficacy of wiping cloths and silver dihydrogen citrate on food contact surfaces — Masuku — 2012 — Journal of Applied Microbiology — Wiley Online Library. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2012.05318.x

Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.). Consumer Updates — Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water [WebContent]. Retrieved October 21, 2018, from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm378393.htm

Layton, B. M. (2006). Disinfectants and Salmonella: A Study Showing the Effectiveness of Disinfectants Against the Bacteria Salmonella, 1, 12.

Holm, S. M., Leonard, V., Durrani, T., & Miller, M. D. (2018). Do we know how best to disinfect child care sites in the United States? A review of available disinfectant efficacy data and health risks of the major disinfectant classes. American Journal of Infection Control. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajic.2018.06.013

Kenters, N., Huijskens, E. G. W., de Wit, S. C. J., van Rosmalen, J., & Voss, A. (2017). Effectiveness of cleaning-disinfection wipes and sprays against multidrug-resistant outbreak strains. American Journal of Infection Control, 45(8), e69–e73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajic.2017.04.290

Sood, S., Choudhary, S., & Wang, H.-C. R. (2013). Induction of human breast cell carcinogenesis by triclocarban and intervention by curcumin. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 438(4), 600–606. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbrc.2013.08.009

Gee, R. H., Charles, A., Taylor, N., & Darbre, P. D. (2008). Oestrogenic and androgenic activity of triclosan in breast cancer cells. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 28(1), 78–91. https://doi.org/10.1002/jat.1316

Dinwiddie, M. T., Terry, P. D., & Chen, J. (2014). Recent Evidence Regarding Triclosan and Cancer Risk. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(2), 2209–2217. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110202209

Deleo, M. A., & Valley, C. (n.d.). Robert L. Blum, Clayton; Maria G., 8.

Tan L, Nielsen NH, Young DC, Trizna Z, for the Council on Scientific Affairs, & American Medical Association. (2002). Use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products. Archives of Dermatology, 138(8), 1082–1086. https://doi.org/10.1001/archderm.138.8.1082

Written by

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store