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Disinfectant vs Sanitizing Wipes: Is There A Difference?

Cleaning and disinfection wipes are widely available and have been used for years to prevent or reduce transmission of germs and infections.

In general, disinfectant wipes contain various compounds that collectively help kill bacteria, some viruses and fungi. Such ingredients are then diluted in water in a certain concentration so that there is an optimum concentration to attain a perfect balance of killing germs while avoid harmful effects to the skin.

In most disinfectant wipes, the active ingredient is alcohol. Alcohol is antimicrobial (meaning it kills bacteria). Other compounds that are present in most disinfecting wipes and kill bacteria and most viruses are:

  • chlorine and chlorine-related compounds

  • Formaldehyde

  • Glutaraldehyde

  • Hydrogen peroxide

  • Iodine solution

  • Phenol

These compounds kill germs in various ways, which include breaking down the wall of the bacteria by poking holes through the wall, dissolving the wall itself, and/or breaking the bonds that hold the wall together. Other compounds penetrate into the bacteria itself and impair the ability of the bacteria to make proteins (preventing survival) or the ability to replicate (cannot make more bacteria).

Disinfectant wipes also contain detergents which interestingly enough are strong enough to help dissolve the cell wall of most bacteria, but not too strong to down our skin.

The wipes themselves are composed of textile materials such as cotton or polyester for gentle every-day use. The wipes contain cellulosic fibers which are implemented to ensure high waster retention and storage of the compounds.

When discussing disinfectant wipes there are various brands including Clorox and Lysol for household use. For healthcare or hospital use, similar compounds are used; however, most often at stronger concentrations and as a result, gloves and protective eyewear are recommended when using hospital-grade wipes to prevent skin irritation and burns.

These various wipes also differ in the disinfection time (how long does it take to work) and risk of skin allergies and irritation. In general most household disinfecting wipes take on average 30 second to 4 minutes to disinfect and 10-30 seconds to sanitize.

So what’s the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting?

Sanitizing refers to reducing, not killing, bacteria, fungi and viruses on surfaces and skin vs disinfecting refers to killing the microscopic organisms.

What about baby wipes?

Baby wipes, in general, are sanitizing; however, there are disinfecting baby wipes to use to clean surfaces and not to use directly on the baby.

So how do we use these wipes appropriately and ensure we are in fact, killing germs effectively. First, it is important to remove visible soil on the surface. For majority of household wipes, the hard surface must remain wet for at least four minutes (10 minutes at best) to kill most bacteria, viruses and fungi. The most important thing is to let the surface dry before putting items on the surface.

There is no exact number for how much surface one disinfectant wipe covers. A 2018 study performed revealed that 1 wipe typically covers over 1 to 2 square feet of surface.

In general, when using disinfecting wipes it is important to make sure the surface is appropriately cleaned and wet equally. If a wipe is used, it is recommended to not re-use a gently used wipe as it will dry out and when exposed to air, some compounds are less active or less effective.

Gentle “natural” wipes are often marketed as less irritating and in general, are effective as they contain main active ingredients that kill most bacteria, viruses and germs. However, they lack various compounds that are frequent culprits for skin allergic reactions such as formaldehyde, fragrance and other detergents.

For more questions about disinfectant and sanitizing wipes, check out the article below:

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