They’re often cheap and appealing in their colorful containers. Sometimes they even smell good. According to a study by the Soap and Detergent Association (via Infection Control Today), 28% of Americans who use either cleaning, disinfecting, or antibacterial wipes do so because of their portability, and another 20% use them because of the "ease of disposal."
With the global pandemic currently on everyone’s mind, people are using disposable disinfectant wipes to wipe down everything from shopping carts to kitchen countertops. However, improper use can do more harm than good. If you do choose to use disinfecting wipes, it’s important to understand that you can’t just swipe them on everything and expect your home to be germ-free. You’ll want to make sure the wipes you buy can actually kill viruses and bacteria. You’ll also want to ensure that you’re using them the right way.
What Exactly is a Disinfectant Wipe?
Most disinfectant wipes are made up of synthetic fibers (usually polyester or rayon) that prevent them from being compostable or recyclable. So, after just one use, they are thrown away and head to the landfill, or, worse, they are flushed down the toilet and end up in waterways.
Ready-to-use disinfectant wipes often contain active ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, or ethanol, as well as bleach.
Always Follow the Instructions
Before using any product to disinfect – including disinfecting wipes – it’s imperative to clean the area first to remove grease, dirt, grime, and other impurities from surfaces to ensure that the disinfectant has 100% contact with the surface, otherwise it will not be able to work effectively. Cleaning is the first step to a complete process of preventing illness.
In addition to always following the pre-cleaning step, it’s important to understand that all disinfectant products need to stay on the surface for a certain duration of time to work effectively (this is known as “contact time”, or “dwell time”), so always read instructions on the label of your preferred disinfecting wipes. You might be surprised how many disinfectant wipes it takes to ensure that the surface stays wet for the full four to ten minutes directed on the label.
Also be sure to follow instructions about proper storage, which is usually room-temperature for disinfectant wipes. Otherwise, wet wipes are prone to what is known as “fold mold”, which is just as gross as it sounds – it’s mold in between wipes in the container. Yikes!
Disinfectant Wipes May Spread Around Harmful Bacteria
While you may be using disinfectant wipes with the best intentions, those quick 10-second swishes on surfaces that most people do while using wipes could be doing more harm than good. In addition to following instructions for proper dwell time, William Schaffner, Department Chair of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, further recommends having a "use it and lose it" philosophy when using disinfectant wipes. Before moving on to a new surface, always throw the wipe away and reach for a new one, or else you risk spreading germs around from one surface to the next.
Say, for example, you want to use disinfectant wipes to degerm your kitchen countertop. The first step would be to clean the countertop with soap and water to remove food debris, grease, and grime. Next, dry the countertop with paper towels or wait for it to air dry. Finally, you must use enough wipes so that the countertop remains visibly wet for the proper dwell time, usually between four to ten minutes depending on the brand of wipes and active ingredient. It’s also important to note that depending on the surface you’re cleaning, you may also need to rinse with water after disinfecting, for example, surfaces that come in contact with food, such as your cutting board. Finally, as mentioned above, always dispose of the wipes after use and reach for a new one when moving onto a different surface. In other words, to avoid cross-contamination and causing an even greater germ situation, you should only use each wipe once, for a small surface area, and for only a single application. For obvious reasons, when used properly, this method of disinfection becomes very expensive.
In 2008, British researchers discovered that one particular kind of “superbug”, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), was able to be spread through disinfecting wipes – the very product meant to eliminate dangerous pathogens. The study of two hospitals found that while the wipes killed some bacteria, they did not get them all and could transfer bacteria to other surfaces. "What we have found is there is a high risk," Gareth Williams, a microbiologist at Cardiff University, said in an interview with Reuters. MRSA infections can range from boils to more severe infections of the bloodstream, lungs, and surgical sites. Most cases are associated with hospitals, nursing homes or other healthcare facilities. The researchers found that many healthcare workers cleaned multiple surfaces near patients, including bed rails, monitors, and tables with a single wipe and risked sweeping the infections around rather than cleaning them up.
The Environmental Impact of Disinfectant Wipes
Do you use disinfectant wipes? If so, think about how many wipes you use in a day to disinfect surfaces around your home. Just a measly four wipes a day equals to 120 wipes a month! Multiply that by all the different kinds of disposable wipes (baby wipes, wet wipes, cleaning wipes, etc.), and the number of people globally who use them on a daily basis, and that number becomes hard to even begin to comprehend. And even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number was growing astronomically, as is illustrated by these three examples:
- The Marine Conservation Society’s (MCSUK) annual beach clean-up in the UK revealed that they found the number of wipes more than doubled between 2013 and 2014. Thirty-five non-biodegradable cleaning and disinfecting wipes were found for every half mile of beach.
- The New York Times reported that New York City alone spent more than $18 million between 2010-2015 on wipe-related equipment problems as waste water pumps clog and gears faltered.
- Are disinfectant wipes flushable? Dr. Mehmet Oz demonstrated how, despite marketing otherwise, they do NOT break down, and can wreak havoc after being flushed.
Disposable wipes can cause grave consequences on our environment. For instance:
- Wipes not only impact the sewer systems, but the resulting blockages can also affect waterways by causing raw sewage to overflow into rivers and the ocean.
- Wipes, which usually contain plastic fibers, pose a danger to animals that mistake plastic bags and wipes for their natural jellyfish prey.
- Are disinfectant wipes recyclable? While we all strive to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill and increase the amount we recycle, wipes are not recyclable and increase the amount of waste that goes to the landfill.
The bottom line: Disinfectant wipes may be a convenience, but with a high price. We can do better for our planet (and our wallets!) by using an eco-friendly alternative while still achieving the same disinfectant results.
There is a Better Way.
Vital Oxide is great for everyday cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting around the home, office, school, or anywhere, really. Unlike disinfectant wipes and other conventional disinfectant products, Vital Oxide does not contain any harsh chemicals. Vital Oxide is effective on a broad spectrum of viruses and bacteria, including MRSA. It’s also on the EPA’s List N as a disinfectant approved for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
What about the impact Vital Oxide has on the environment? After use, Vital Oxide breaks down to simple salt and produces no harmful byproducts – making it a superb environmental choice.
How much of a surface area can one bottle of Vital Oxide cover? Depending on the surface type, a 32 oz bottle of Vital Oxide can typically cover 250-square-feet if sprayed directly from the bottle and 2,000-square-feet if applied by an electrostatic sprayer or fogging device. That is A LOT of disinfecting power in a small package – and likely much more economical than the amount of wipes it would take to effectively disinfect the same area. For surfaces like electronics that cannot be directly sprayed with liquid, apply Vital Oxide using a clean microfiber cloth to disinfect.