Wet wipes. They are small convenient cleaning tools. But there are many reasons why people should ditch them.
To help you understand wet wipes and all their impact on human health and the environment, I interviewed lifestyle bloggers, safety experts, cleaning experts, healthcare professionals, and environmental experts. Learn from their insights and get inspired to clean more sustainably.
What are wet wipes?
This little fabric-like thing is a quick cleaning cloth. It wipes off the dirt from any surface. People use this to wipe the face, hands, or behind in the absence of clean running water. These are indeed very convenient to use and compact. You can enjoy eating your meals outside. And have an automatic fabric that can help clean your hands apart from sanitary alcohol.
According to Adam Wright, Founder of LifeHacker Guy, “Wet wipes are pre-dampened pieces of fabric or paper that are individually folded and packed. And since it contains a cleaning agent such as alcohol, it has become a staple in every home and is now commonly used for cleaning, sanitizing, or hygienic purposes like cleaning babies, removing makeup, and sanitizing surfaces. I personally consider wet wipes in the same vein as my hand sanitizer, and I always have one whenever I go especially when I’m with my wife and kids.”
Rochelle Serna, Founder, and CEO of Wild & Pure, also states that wet wipes are made up of polypropylene plastic that is turned into a non-woven textile. “The plastic fabric-like material is then doused with a solution containing solvents, preservatives, PH balancers, and other chemicals to stabilize the solution for long periods of time. They are single-use and generally sent straight to landfill.”
Billie Jo HOHEPA-ROPIHA, creator of the BDÉT Foam Wash, also says that you can find wet wipes as baby wipes, wet towels, disinfecting wipes, or moist towelettes.
Why are wet wipes popular?
In the sense of their popularity, wet wipes were like replacements for toilet paper. Thus, it has become popular across the globe especially that serves many purposes: makeup remover, automatic fabric to wash your hands, removes dirt, basically wipes everything clean – almost.
Rochelle Serna says, “The popularity of wet wipes can be tied back to convenience. Whether for baby bottoms, makeup, or pet care, they are an easy way to clean in a snap without much thought.”
According to Dr. Katerina Schkodzik OBGYN, a medical writer at Miracare, “Wet wipes are basically small, pre-moistened pieces of paper or cloth that can be used for both delicate cleaning (being the cleansing of babies the most common usage) or even hard scrubbing. Wet wipes became quickly popular after their invention in the late 50s mostly due to their multifunctionality and convenience when it comes to personal hygiene.”
To Alexander Varela, General Manager of Dallas Maids, wet wipes are popular because they are practical. In terms of convenience, wet wipes are taking the number 1 spot along with other convenient inventions made.
He says, “They are very popular as a cleaning product for babies, called baby wipes because they’re able to clean a baby’s bottom, their mouth or any other common problematic areas. Also, because of the packaging, the user is able to quickly take as many as they need without requiring two separate dispensers (cloth + cleaning agent). They are also used to replace toilet paper. Those ones are called toilet wet wipes. They can be used for personal hygiene and cleaning in general.”
Adam Wright shares how much wet wipes help him in his daily life. “I can’t even imagine how my life will look without it especially when it comes to emergency clean-ups. Who will rescue me then when I need to wash my hands when I’m on the go or when there’s no bathroom around? How would my wife easily remove her makeup without wet wipes? To be precise, our lives will not become much more easier and convenient if wipes are not invented.”
Billie Jo HOHEPA-ROPIHA also puts his two cents on this convenient item. “Wet wipes have become trendy in bathroom culture across the globe taking the place of the traditional toilet paper. The matter is made worse when the wipes are marketed as being flushable. They cause a problem in the sewage pipes after being flushed. And if they go through your local sewage pipe successfully they can cause issues at the sewage treatment plant. While some brands write “flushable”, some write “septic safe”. They have become so popular that usage has surged to an estimated 450bn a year – or about 14,000 every second.”
Indeed, the convenience it brings onto our doorsteps is undeniable. It can be used in anything; from removing your makeup, wiping the dirt from the windshield of your car, dirt from the table, from your phone, your shoes, your bag, etc. It can be applied in literally anything like the amount of water it has is not huge enough to destroy electronic materials – given that it is only moist. But apart from that, it always has its downside, and again, it is undeniable.
How does it work?
But how does it work? How can we keep it moist? Simple. The packaging already speaks for itself. According to Rochelle Serna, “Most wet wipes come in plastic packaging made
specifically to hold liquids. Because of its complex layering, it isn’t recyclable. Wipes are usually pulled up from a re-sealable opening in the bag and used for a variety of things from baby to beauty to spot cleaning.”
That is why its usual packaging is plastic to hold the liquid in which keeps the wipes moist. Hence, it should always be kept in a place where heat temperature is not strong to keep it away from drying.
Alex Valera also states, “They work by providing a quick piece of cloth that’s already been damped with a cleaning/antibacterial/sanitizing product. The most common are Imidazolidinyl urea and CHG. Water and fragrance are also common. Depending on the type, it might also include moisturizers such as castor oil and aloe vera.”
Lastly, Billie Jo HOHEPA-ROPIHA says, “Wet wipes are moist, panels of plastic nonwoven fibre that are a convenient rag to mop up spills or needed hygiene needs. However, unlike toilet paper which dissolves fast, wet wipes can dissolve after weeks or several months or even years in the wastewater system or in landfill. When using for personal hygiene after going for a long call and flushed down the toilet they clog sewerage systems and sometimes they form what is called fatbergs.”
Simply put, wet wipes work easily like damped clothes. The packaging already serves like its container so you no longer have to worry about where to place them. Plus, they are handy.
Dangers of using wet wipes
Amidst their benefits and convenience, wet wipes endanger human and animal health in many ways.
Victoria Swift a Medical Doctor, Head Physician for a Private Practice in Debilitating Diseases, shares a lot of harm from the chemicals that compose wet wipes. “Wet wipes are usually used by new parents to wipe off any dirt from their children. However, if you look at the ingredients of wet wipes, you’ll see there that there are a lot of dangerous chemicals in there which can do more harm to your baby. “
Dr. Katerina Schkodzik also warns, “They can be harmful to people since they contain strong, drying chemicals that strip the skin of its natural oils and when used recurrently they can cause irritation and inflammation.”
Dr. Anthony Puopolo, Chief Medical Officer at RexMD, said, “Wet wipes are single-use moistened sheets that can be used for a variety of purposes. Some wet wipes are designed for cleaning and others are designed for feminine hygiene. Wipes are popular because they’re
convenient. Unfortunately, wet wipes can be dangerous for your health and the environment. Some have chemicals that aren’t gentle on human skin.”
Cause imbalance in the body’s systems
Rochelle Serna says that when it comes to wet wipes’ effects on humans, these aren’t well measured, but they are making an impact. Most solutions contain at least one ingredient that can disrupt human mucosa, throw off our skin’s PH balance, and cause rash and sensitivity, which is concerning since many are used on our most sensitive parts.
Alexander Varela discusses possible allergic reactions from wet wipes. “They are mostly safe to use, however they can generate an allergic reaction, particularly to a component called MCI or MI. This allergic reaction could cause dermatitis (commonly known as a rash). People can
be allergic to fragrances as well if the wipe contains any.”
Not safe for ingestion
They could be toxic when ingested, but they are not meant to be edible. But it’s not far-fetched for innocent children and animals to put in their mouths. It could be to pass curiosity or to stave hunger. Both reasons lead to dangerous deaths.
These wipes are made of largely non-biodegradable materials that will take millions of years to be degraded. The problem is since these are soft, they can be ingested by marine animals and can block their digestive organs. These cannot be digested even by the gastric juices in the stomach of animals so it will just lead to their deaths.
Another danger of wet wipes is their disposal and it’s not only limited to humans but the environment itself. Given that these are small and soft, it can be easily flushed down the drain and eventually gets flushed towards the ocean which just adds up to the pile of wastes floating in the ocean.
Same impact as other plastics
Because wet wipes are made with plastic, the impact falls in line with many other single-use plastic items. Crude oil resources are used to create them. they are often disposed of
improperly, found in oceans and parks, and they never break down completely, leaving a trail of microplastics. Worse yet, they are typically not recyclable, truly single use.
Contribute to waste pollution
According to the 2017 Great British Beach Clean report, wet wipes are responsible for up to eight percent of the plastic to be found in the sea at European shores. Apart from drink bottles and fishing nets, they make up a large part of the plastic waste in our seas.
For Alex Varela, the biggest issue with wet wipes, and particularly toilet wet wipes, is that
they’re not being disposed of properly. Countries such as Australia have actually carried out lawsuits against companies that promote them as Flushable which is very ambiguous because they are indeed capable of being flushed down the toilet, but that doesn’t make them safe to be flushed without causing inconveniences; just like a golf ball is flushable yet not meant to be thrown down the toilet. Because they don’t break down efficiently, they end up clogging the sewers, costing fortunes to the government to unclog them.
Kill marine wildlife
Billie Jo HOHEPA-ROPIHA warns. Wet wipes get trapped along the wastewater pipes and build up, sometimes they get flushed out to sea after a storm or heavy rainfall. When at sea they look like jellyfish so are eaten then they kill the marine creature as it can’t pass through its bowel system.
Hence, Adam Wright advises to dispose of your wet wipes properly and to never flush them in your toilet for the reason that as it journeys towards the sea, marine animals might accidentally ingest it and die due to blockage.
Sustainable alternatives to wet wipes
It is time for us to break free from plastic. And yes, that should include wet wipes.
Here are some sustainable alternatives to wet wipes:
Using the power of water in the bathroom, you can say goodbye to wet wipes forever.
Towels or Microfiber Cloths
Alex Varela says, “Being in the cleaning industry, I don’t really use wet wipes that often
because of two reasons: their environmental impact, and because I don’t find them more useful than regular paper or microfiber cloths. In fact, I find those much more versatile because you can add any cleaning product you wish, or use them as dry cloths to wipe off any product.”
For the most convenient option, without the waste, you can now find disposable cotton dry wipes that can be used for all of the above, and some are even washable, like those by Wild & Pure! They are much less harsh on the earth to create and break down, and they leave without a trace.
Dr. Anthony Puopolo recommends bamboo wipes. Bamboo wipes are 100% biodegradable.
BDÉT Foam Wash
Billie Jo HOHEPA-ROPIHA created the BDÉT Foam Wash which turns ordinary toilet paper into a cleansing hygienic wipe. Made in New Zealand from 98.9% natural ingredients, BDÉT Foam Wash is a natural foam that’s applied to toilet paper and turns into a flushable, moist wipe. It is the perfect replacement for wet wipes or to simply enhance the performance of toilet paper.
BDÉT has been Dermatologically tested on Sensitive Skin and tested by New Zealand’s largest Wastewater Treatment Provider, Watercare, and proves it is both sewer and septic safe.
With that said, we always have to check our purchases and be meticulous about them. Considering the health of the environment and our family as well. Besides, sustainable purchases last longer and are often cheaper than the usual ones we buy that are nonrecyclable and bad for the environment.
Even the way we clean should not be harmful. There are so many ways to clean without harsh chemicals. Most of which are free. Here are some recipes you can try for non-toxic cleaners at home while on lockdown.