Schools will resume face-to-face classes this week. Apart from the usual new school term items, I am sure that personal hygiene products also top the item list. Personal hygiene products like masks, hand sanitizers, wet wipes or antiseptic sprays. Do you need all of them? How about wet wipes specifically?

The real meaning behind the “Kill 99.9% of germs” message of Wet Wipes

I am seeing lots of advertisements on antibacterial and kills 99.9% of germs and bacteria on wet wipes. Do you know their effectiveness and their side effects?
Wet wipes targeting children are mostly alcohol-free. Active ingredients used in alcohol-free wet wipes include benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium choloride, polyhexamethylene biguanide and triclosan, with benzalkonium chloride being the most commonly used. Three things to learn about these alcohol-free antiseptic wet wipes:

  • “Kill 99.9% of harmful germs’ doesn’t mean much: When a marketing claim of “kills 99.9% of germs” is used, it may or may not kill the specific variety of bacteria or pathogens you need killed. It certainly is not killing 99.9% of the flu virus that you think it would. A product may kill only a small handful of different strains or types of germs, sometimes as few as only 3-4 pathogens. 99.9% means that it can kill 999 bacteria when a surface has 1000 bacteria of the 3-4 pathogens. It does not mean killing 99.9% of the types of bacteria or viruses!!
  • To date, there hasn’t been any product making claims that wet wipes can kill the virus that causes COVID-19 (COV-SARS-2 virus) so using wet wipes do not protect your children from contracting COVID-19!
  • The chemicals used are often not declared on the product package (and not all product web sites will list the ingredients). I did some digging on the active ingredients used on typical wet wipes on the market. Benzalkonium chloride, being one of the common active ingredients in wet wipes, can be harmful to the immune system, a class of health problems that manifest as allergic reactions or an impaired capacity to fight disease and repair damaged tissue in the body. The damage may not be noticeable right away, but it doesn’t mean that damage is not being done.

Alternatives to Wet Wipes

Antiseptic wet wipes will not kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus and some of its active ingredients may be harmful to the immune system over time.

Until today, FDA has issued ruling on hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol as being GRAS/E (Generally recognized safe and effective). Rulings on OTC (over-the-counter) consumer antiseptic rubs (such as wet wipes) that contain benzalkonium chloride has been deferred. FDA has requested additional data to support the safety and effectiveness of active ingredients used in wet wipes and the rulings have not been final! I would recommend using it only when you have no choice, not out of convenience!

Washing hands using soap and water is still the safest with the best results! Check out this previous blog on “washing with soap vs. hand sanitizer” to learn about the difference in its mechanism and results!