Antibacterial wipes are convenient products that make cleaning and disinfecting seem like a snap. Rather than filling a sink or bucket with hot soapy water before wiping down surfaces, one can simply grab a wipe, give surfaces a quick swipe, and be done. But antibacterial wipes may not be as effective as you think. In fact, they may actually spread germs rather than kill them. Additionally, they may be creating health problems, including asthma and antibiotic resistance. Read on for eight reasons you may want to ditch the antibacterial wipes and switch to plain soap and water, and when it can be appropriate to use them.
9. They May Not Kill Germs
You may feel confident in grabbing an antibacterial wipe to clean countertops after cutting meat or to disinfect surfaces when your family has the flu. However, many antibacterial or disinfectant products need to sit on surfaces for a certain length of time in order to kill bacteria. Check the label on disinfecting cleaning supplies and you will notice they advise allowing surfaces to be wet with disinfectant for a given period of time, often around 10 minutes. While antibacterial wipes may remove germs with a swipe, they do not remain in contact with surfaces long enough to kill harmful bacteria.
8. They Can Spread Germs
In addition to not killing germs, antibacterial wipes may actually spread germs from one surface to another. If you use a wipe to clean your kitchen countertop and then use that same wipe to clean your refrigerator door, you may be just transferring germs from your countertop to the fridge. Science Daily reports that a study at Cardiff University demonstrated that use of antibacterial wipes in the hospital setting spread bacteria. This was due to the ineffectiveness of the wipes in killing germs. If you do choose to use antibacterial wipes to clean surfaces, be sure to use each cloth in one area only and then dispose of it to avoid spreading bacteria.
7. They Create Antibiotic Resistance
As with antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes may contribute to bacterial resistance to traditional antibiotics. As bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, it becomes more difficult to find medications capable of killing bacteria in patients with infections. This results in “superbug” infections, like MRSA, that are difficult to treat. The American Medical Association advises avoiding the use of antibacterial soaps in order to prevent the mutation of bacteria into microorganisms that are not susceptible to current antibiotics.
6. They Can Destroy Sealed Finishes
While antibacterial wipes may not kill germs as effectively as you think, they can damage the finishes on your furniture. The alcohol content in antibacterial wipes can be destructive to hardwood floors and furniture. Over time, the use of wipes can dull the finish and destroy the beauty of your wood. Additionally, the chemicals in antibacterial wipes can eat away at the finish of polished surfaces such as marble or granite countertops. Alcohol can also damage leather surfaces, leaving them cracked and worn.
5. They Leave Behind Chemicals
Unlike soap and water, antibacterial wipes can leave behind harmful chemical residues on surfaces. This makes them unsafe for use on items like children’s toys, highchair trays, and skin. Avoid using antibacterial wipes on any objects that may end up in a child’s mouth. Wash toys in hot, soapy water and then dry them with a towel to kill germs and keep them clean and sanitary. Wash hands with warm water and soap and pat dry with a soft towel. If you do keep sanitary wipes in your purse or diaper bag for wiping hands when water is not available, be sure they are products designed for use on skin rather than on hard surfaces.Related: Remember to Wash Your Hands! 11 Common Items That Can Carry Germs
4. They Can Cause Health Issues
The chemicals contained in antibacterial wipes can be harmful to your health. In addition to contributing to bacterial resistance, these chemicals can directly cause medical disorders. Quaternary ammonium compounds, such as benzalkonium chloride and related chemicals, are often mainstays in antibacterial wipes as disinfecting agents. These chemicals are skin irritants that may cause contact dermatitis or skin rashes. Moreover, simply pulling a wipe from the container can result in breathing in these compounds. This can be harmful since quaternary ammonium compounds are also lung irritants that can cause or worsen asthma.
3. They May Be Harmful to the Environment
Disinfectant wipes can be harmful to the environment as well as to humans. As quaternary ammonium compounds make their way into the environment, they can enter the water supply or soil and prove harmful to wildlife. Soap or disinfectants are typically diluted in water and washed down the drain to be treated in water facilities. Meanwhile, antibacterial wipes make their way to landfill sites, where they may negatively affect the environment.Related: Top Tips for Protecting Your Hands
2. They Are No More Effective Than Soap and Water
If antibacterial wipes were truly safe and effective, the convenience of using them may be worth the cost of purchasing them. However, studies show that antibacterial wipes are no more effective than soap and warm water. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises ditching antibacterial soaps and sticking to plain soap and water to clean and disinfect household surfaces and your skin. Not only is soap and water safer for your health, but it also works just as well at killing germs as antibacterial chemicals.
1. When to Use Antibacterial Wipes
Antibacterial wipes should not be the mainstay of household cleaning and disinfecting. However, there are times it can be appropriate to use them. You may want to carry antibacterial wipes for occasions when you don’t have access to soap and water. They may be handy for wiping down picnic tables when you are at a local park—just remember to use several in order to get the job done. Wipes can also provide an extra measure of reassurance when grabbing a shopping cart at the grocery store during flu season. Wash your hands after use and be careful not to inhale chemicals when removing wipes from the container.Related: What Happens When You Skip Washing Your Hands After Using the Bathroom