Chances are pretty high that you have a tub of disposable disinfecting wipes somewhere in your house. Maybe it’s sitting on the toilet, skulking in the kitchen or waiting in the go bag you keep by the door so you always have some on hand. The concept sounds like a great idea — a portable quick tool for wiping down to get rid of dirt and bacteria.
But are disinfecting wipes really all that great for you and the environment? You might be surprised.
1. Clogs in sewage processing
Sewage processing facilities are built to handle two things: human waste, and toilet paper. Unfortunately, a lot of other things make their way into the sewage system, where they cause significant problems that can interfere with waste processing, especially since many plants are struggling to handle increased loads with outdated capacity levels. In addition to culprits like condoms, tampons and dropped objects, sewage facilities are noticing an uptick in a new problem: wet wipes.
Despite the fact that they’re marketed as “flushable,” these products can actually cause clogs at processing plants, thanks to their cloth base. Instead of breaking down like toilet paper does over the course of processing, they retain their basic shape and structure, jamming filters, stirrers and other equipment. Consequently, sewage treatment plants have to bring in cleaning specialists to remove them, which is, as you can imagine, a really unpleasant job. Blech!
Remember the old “reduce, reuse, recycle” adage? That holds true in every area of your life. If you don’t need a product, it’s better to avoid using it in the first place, and wet wipes are highly wasteful. Like other disposable products, their single-use nature makes them prone to waste, especially when they are individually packaged. Worse yet, they’re usually packaged in plastic for sanitation reasons, which generates more garbage for landfills. Consumers can sidestep the problem altogether by seeking out alternatives to wet wipes, like good old fashioned handwashing and toilet paper. Or a bidet, for those with pressing toilet issues; there are bowl-mounted options available that don’t require major plumbing reworkings, and use limited amounts of water.
3. Do you know what’s in those?
Guess what? Even if the label says “natural,” these products tend to come with a whole lot of chemical ingredients, some of which are nasties that can cause skin irritation and dryness. Furthermore, most are fragranced, which can exacerbate skin irritation and sensitivity. You definitely don’t want to be using these chemicals around delicate mucous membranes, and they’re not that great on other parts of the body either, especially if you use them repeatedly.
4. Antibiotic susceptibility, we hardly knew ye
Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem worldwide, as clinicians struggle with aggressive infections that don’t respond to treatment with a litany of antibiotics. Bacteria are also getting harder and harder to remove from surfaces in facilities like hospitals and clinics. One reason for that is the increase in the use of antibiotics for minor infections, as well as excessive use of products like, yes, disinfecting wipes.
While such wipes are designed to sterilize surfaces and some studies show them to be highly effective, some research suggests they may actually spread bacteria if not used properly. While they can kill or remove on initial contact, as the wipes are rubbed or dragged against a surface (like the handle of a grocery store cart, your hand, or a counter), bacteria can start tumbling off, leaving a trail of infectious organisms, some of which will still be alive.
No one wants to be vulnerable to bacterial infection, and all of us want to make sure we stay clean, but disinfecting wipes may not be the solution many people think they are.