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Are Cleaning Wipes Safe?

The Bottom Line

During the past decade, the use of cleaning wipes has increased substantially. Cleaning wipes are available for a variety of surfaces. Since they are meant to be used with bare hands, they are mostly water and are not commonly associated with toxicity.

The Full Story

Cleaning wipes are a common find in households. They offer a convenient way to clean with specific wipes for different surfaces such as stainless steel, countertops, glass, and wooden furniture.

Kitchen disinfecting wipes are the type of wipe exposure most often called in to Poison Control. These wipes are mostly water but also contain detergents, antimicrobials, and other components to boost their effectiveness. The detergents in these products can sound dangerous. For example: alkyl dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride and alkyl dimethylethylbenzyl ammonium chloride. These components are cationic detergents that can cause chemical burns in high concentrations; however, in the wipes they are only 0.01-0.1%. This concentration is high enough to break apart a bacterial cell wall, just as hand soap does, but not high enough to break down human skin. Some kitchen disinfecting wipes use hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, or ethanol in conjunction with a detergent or alone.

Depending on the brand, ingredients can be made from natural products or manufactured. In general, the source of the ingredients (natural versus man-made) does not change the efficacy or toxicity.

If a kitchen disinfecting wipe is put into the mouth or if some of the fluid at the bottom of the container is swallowed, superficial irritation can occur. If enough fluid is swallowed, one or two episodes of vomiting could also occur. The person exposed should first rinse their mouth out with water and then take small sips of water to clear the throat.

Consider whether you actually need disinfecting wipes. When simply wiping down a surface, a baby wipe will accomplish the same goal and does not contain additional chemicals. If there was raw food on the counter top or if someone in the household has a weakened immune system, then disinfecting wipes might make sense.

Disinfecting wipes are used by hand and because of this are relatively safe when used properly. However, they are not meant to be chewed on or swallowed, and bathroom disinfecting wipes could be harsher on the mouth or throat than kitchen wipes. The symptoms described above—superficial superficial irritation and vomiting—might be more likely.

Other surface cleaning wipes (glass, furniture, and stainless steel) are mild irritants. If a wipe is found in the mouth, rinse gently with water and offer something to drink. Furniture and stainless steel products can contain small amounts of a hydrocarbon or oily substance. These products could cause skin irritation when handled by a child (a child's skin is more delicate). Simply wash the skin with soap and water.

If you are worried about an exposure to cleaning wipes, check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Whether you log on or call, expert assistance is available 24 hours a day.

Pela Soto, PharmD, BSHS, BS
Certified Specialist in Poison Information


For More Information

Safe cleaning. Better Homes & Gardens. Des Moines (IA): Meredith Corp [cited 25 May 2019].


References

Detergents- anionic and cationic, ethanol, glass cleaner, isopropyl alcohol. POISINDEX® System [Internet database]. Greenwood Village (CO): Thomson Micromedex. Updated periodically [cited 25 May 2019].

End-use market forecasts for global wipes to 2021. Akron (OH): Smithers Pira; 15 May 2019 {cited 28 May 2019].

Wipes. TOXINZ Poisons Information [Internet database]. Dunedin (NZ): New Zealand: New Zealand Poisons Centre, University of Otago. Updated periodically [cited 31 May 2109].

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Keep cleaning wipes away from other wipes meant to be used on skin to avoid mix-ups.
  • Look at ingredients before bringing wipes home.
  • Fluid can collect at the bottom of the container and pour out unexpectedly. Keep wipes away from children.

This Really Happened

An aunt was watching her 6-month-old niece. When it was time to change a diaper, a brightly colored container of wipes next to the changing table was opened. While using the wipes, the smell was stronger than the aunt expected. She looked at the label and discovered that they were cleaning wipes, not baby wipes.

The aunt gave the child a quick bath and called Poison Control, which assured her that she had done exactly what they would have told her to do. She was instructed to make sure the skin was well dried, to apply a diaper ointment before putting on a new diaper, and monitor the skin for irritation. The child was happy and had no symptoms at this time.

The next day, Poison Control checked with the family and was told that no skin irritation occurred.