16 dirty truth about disinfecting wipes

If you use disinfecting wipes on the regular, you’re far from alone. In 2008, the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) commissioned Echo Research to conduct a cleaning survey across the country. Most Americans — a considerable 71 percent — said they use some form of wipes, according to the results of the survey published in a press release. Of that percentage, 77 percent keep at least two containers in their homes at all times and over a quarter of those people said they whip out a wipe at least once per day. By 2014, Clorox reported (via Environmental Working Group) that roughly half of American homes use their brand of disinfecting wipes.

“Cleaning wipes have become part of the American fabric, so to speak,” Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication at SDA, was quoted as saying in the release. “Not only do they help keep us healthy, they do so conveniently and effectively.” But do they? Here’s the dirty truth about our beloved disinfecting wipes.

1. What’s in a disinfecting wipe?

gloved hands taking disinfecting wipes from container

It’s hard to argue against the practicality of disinfecting wipes. According to the Soap and Detergent Association’s study, 28 percent of Americans who use either cleaning, disinfecting, or antibacterial wipes do so because of their portability and another 20 percent use them because of the “ease of disposal.” Others like them because they are quick and functional. Many like disinfecting wipes, in particular, because of their ability to kill germs

Disinfecting wipes’ germ-fighting abilities are advertised right on the container — and independent studies have confirmed that those claims are accurate. According to one such study published in Journal of Applied Microbiology (via Science Daily), wiping down your kitchen counters with disinfecting wipes after preparing poultry will cut your chance of Campylobacter food poisoning by 99.2 percent.

The ingredients wipes contain are indeed very effective in killing germs, Sampson Davis, an emergency room physician, revealed on The Dr. Oz Show. According to the doctor, water is combined with binding agent sodium C14-17 sec-alkyl sulfonate, essential oils for fragrance, preservatives to prohibit mold and bacteria growth, and, lastly, glycolic acid, which Davis said is “an organic substance” that “helps make the area smooth.”

2. Disinfecting and cleaning are not one in the same

washing cutting board

One of the problems with disinfecting wipes doesn’t actually have anything to do with the product itself but how we’re using them. “The truth is, disinfecting wipes are not necessary for routine cleaning,” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed on its site. Although we may lump them together in one category, there is a big difference between cleaning and disinfecting. “While cleaning removes germs from a surface,” the EWG explained, “disinfecting kills them by using antimicrobial pesticides, such as quaternary ammonium compounds or ‘quats.'”

Before you break out your container of wipes, the EWG stresses the need to recognize whether you actually need to disinfect or you just need to clean. Cleaning regularly will both remove germs that are present and prohibit more germs from appearing. When a surface comes in contact with “raw meat, blood or bodily fluids, and when a family member suffers from a contagious illness, such as the flu,” disinfecting is then advised.