Kimberly HollandUpdated: Jan. 19, 2023
Antibacterial wipes are a time-crunched cleaner's best friend—but not when it comes to these cleaning jobs.
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Don’t waste your wipes
As people around the world become vastly more attentive to cleaning, they’re buying antibacterial wipes as fast as retailers can keep them stocked. People are using them to wipe down everything, in the hopes that it’ll make their homes a little cleaner and safer. And, of course, we get it—they’re certainly easy to use. But while they’re a great cleaning tool, there are a few times when you’re far better off choosing something else. Of course, we still love wipes under the right circumstances—and here’s why Clorox wipes are so good at killing germs.
When you wipe a surface with an antibacterial wipe, you see a gratifying smudge of grime on the white rag. What you don’t see is what’s left behind—chemicals. “The major reason that I believe people should not use antibacterial wipes as an everyday go-to wipe is that we are seeing an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says chemist John Manolas, co-owner of Whyte Gate. “Some of the blame for this phenomenon goes to antibacterial soaps and wipes. Most surfaces will probably be equally germ-free after regular cleaning with soap and water or other household cleaners,” he says. Manolas also stresses that parents shouldn’t use the wipes on children’s toys because kids are likely to put the toys in their mouths.
What to use instead:Vinegar and water. Add half a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water and wipe down the toys with the solution. If the toy is waterproof, you should soak it in the vinegar solution for at least 15 minutes to kill any bacteria. Rinse it thoroughly and let it air-dry. It’s a great non-toxic way to clean toys. One note: If the toys still smell like vinegar once they’re dry, make sure to rinse them again. Here are more household uses for vinegar you probably never knew about.
Anything that absorbs moisture
To be effective, antibacterial solutions often need to sit for several minutes to kill bacteria. If the surface is soft—foam or carpet, for example—it won’t stay wet long enough to be truly effective. If you have to use multiple wipes to achieve the result, the moisture could damage the surface. If you want to know how long your surfaces must be wet to be sterilized, look at the bottle, says Jason Courtney, owner of the Office Pride in downtown Pensacola. “Every kind of wipe has a ‘kill claim’ on the back, which indicates what it will kill in a certain amount of time. In a lab, wipes are tested for everything from hepatitis B to influenza to staphylococcus,” he says. “If the wipe kills the germ, it can be listed on the container. How long the surface must remain wet to kill the germ is spelled out on the container, too.”
What to use instead: Hydrogen peroxide.There are all sorts of ways to clean your carpet that won’t damage it. Of course, make sure to vacuum your carpet, but if you’re targeting specific stains, hydrogen peroxide is a good catch-all. For this solution, combine a teaspoon of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (a higher concentration might bleach your carpets) with a little cream of tartar or a dab of non-gel toothpaste. (Always do a spot test first.) Make sure you also brush up on all of the handy ways to remove carpet stains.
If you think a swipe of an antibacterial wipe on a kitchen counter that just had raw chicken on it is enough to keep your family safe, think again. “Kitchen counters are hot spots for germs and bacteria, and cleaning them using only antibacterial wipes isn’t nearly enough,” says Lily Cameron, a cleaning professional and supervisor at Fantastic Services.
What to use instead:When you need to disinfect your counters, Cameron says, it’s better to use soapy hot water and a sponge. Just make sure you’re properly cleaning (or frequently replacing) your sponge, one of the germiest items in your kitchen.
Bathroom countertops and fixtures
Your bathroom sees a lot of bacteria day in and day out, and an antibacterial wipe isn’t going to do much to keep bacteria growth at bay. “To kill bacteria effectively, a disinfectant needs to stay on the surface for about five to ten minutes,” Cameron says. “Cleaning with antibacterial wipes leaves the surface dry less than five minutes, for sure. Overusing such wipes may expose your family to harmful chemicals without the germ-destroying benefit.”
What to use instead: Comet Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner. This is one of thecleaning products professional house cleaners swear bybecause it powers through soap scum, hard water, and whatever else your bathroom can throw at it. And yet it’s gentle and won’t harm your surfaces. Talk about a win-win!
The chemicals and other ingredients in antibacterial wipes can do damage to some of your home’s surfaces over time. This includes hardwoods, which might lose their shine after repeated scrubs. They can also be damaged by moisture. “Wood surfaces need to dry quickly, but wipes leave the surfaces relatively wet,” says Alberto Navarrete, general manager of Frisco Maids in Dallas, “so that is counterproductive.”
Greg Shepard, founder of Dallas Maids home cleaning, adds: “With wood, less is more. Wood floors, furniture, and wood trimming should not be cleaned often with products because with frequent cleanings, the finish dulls over time. This goes double for bacterial wipes because they contain alcohol, which damages wood’s finish.”
What to use instead: Pine-Solwillsafely clean wood surfaces and leave them shining. Plus, it’s got a disinfectant component that’ll keep things germ-free. By the way, here’s the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.
The whole kitchen
Tempted to take out a wipe from the canister and quickly move from your stove to your fridge to your microwave to your sink? Stop yourself. Antibacterial wipes are not meant to clean large areas. In fact, you may make a bacteria problem worse if you use one for multiple surfaces. “Never use one antibacterial wipe to clean more than one surface,” Cameron says. “A dirty wipe has germs remaining on it and can transport bacteria to another location.”
What to use instead:Use one wipe per surface, and then toss it. It might seem wasteful and you’d rather conserve wipes—especially when they’re in short supply—but using the same wipe for your entire kitchen is acleaning mistake that actually makes your home dirtier.
Surfaces with a sealant
The chemicals and acids in antibacterial wipes can eat away at the polish of sealed surfaces, like marble and granite. They may make the surfaces look dull, even scratched. (Incidentally, you shouldn’t use vinegar on these surfaces either.)
What to use instead: Look for specially designed sealers for these surfaces, or use plain soap and water, which is highly effective as a multipurpose cleaner.
Here’s that alcohol problem again: Many disinfectant or antibacterial wipes contain it, and alcohol can dehydrate supple leather. Repeated use may leave your leather goods looking dry and chalky.
What to use instead:You’ll want to use a gentle cleaner on leather, like baby soap, and put a few drops into a quart or so of water. When you’re finished cleaning, go over the leather again with a clean, damp sponge to remove any soapy residue. And if you do want to use disinfecting wipes on leather, read the label to make sure they don’t contain alcohol. Check out more tips for cleaning leather.
You can dull the beautiful finish of lacquered chairs and desks by using these alcohol-containing wipes. The same is true for any woodwork in your home, such as staircase railings or chair molding, which may have a high-sheen lacquer finish.
What to use instead:Use gentle soap and warm water. Seriously, don’t overthink it. Put one teaspoon of liquid soap into a half-gallon of water and use a damp (not dripping) cloth. On the other hand, these are the things you shouldn’t clean with water.
If the disinfectant is good for doorknobs and kitchen surfaces, it should be good for your hands, right? Not so fast, Cameron says. “Never clean your hands with antibacterial wipes before or while eating, because the wipes leave a residue on the skin. Plus, not all the microbes and bacteria will wipe away,” she says. “The alcohol may irritate the skin, too.”
What to use instead: There’s no replacement for thoroughly washing your hands! “Stop the spread of germs by washing your hands with soap and warm water,” says Cameron. You also need to make sure you don’t confuse antibacterial wipes designed for your hands with the disinfecting antibacterial wipes for homes and offices, according to Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications for the American Cleaning Institute. “Hand wipes are a convenient way to keep your hands clean when you are away from soap and water,” he says. Find out which household products kill coronavirus.
- John Manolas, co-owner of Whyte Gate
- Jason Courtney, owner ofOffice Pride
- Lily Cameron, cleaning and organizing professional at Fantastic Services
- Alberto Navarrete, general manager of Frisco Maids
- Greg Shepard, founder of Dallas Maids
- Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications for the American Cleaning Institute
Originally Published: August 23, 2021
Kimberly Holland is a lifestyle writer and editor based in Birmingham, Alabama. When not organizing her books by color, Holland enjoys toying with new kitchen gadgets and feeding her friends all her cooking experiments.