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Tip of the Month: Watch Out for Disinfectant Wipes!

lysol disinfectant wipes

Tip of the Month: Watch Out for Disinfectant Wipes!

UPDATE 6/2021: Questions on disinfectants and COVID-19? Check out WVE’s additional resources on safe cleaning and disinfecting during COVID-19.


Alex head shot

Alex Scranton
Director of Science
& Research

This blog was originally published around back-to-school time, but ALL YEAR is a good time to watch out for disinfectant wipes! For additional resources, sample letters to public spaces/schools, fact sheets, and actions to help eliminate quats from products and public spaces once and for all, CLICK HERE!

It’s back to school time – and lots of parents will notice “Canister of Disinfecting Wipes” on their child’s school supply list. And it’s no surprise. Many teachers and parents alike appreciate the convenience and ease of disinfecting with a wipe. Killing germs was never so easy – and it feels like we are doing a better job of protecting our children from illness … except we probably aren’t.

Contrary to popular belief (and loads of marketing!), the data just isn’t there. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits that there is no evidence that cleaning with disinfectants is any better at preventing illness than cleaning with regular soap and water.i (In fact, the most effective proven method for reducing illness in schools is implementing a regular old handwashing regimen.)

And, many popular disinfectant wipes contain some pretty harsh chemicals that can cause other acute side effects like skin and eye irritation. There’s a reason that the fine print on the package frequently recommends that you wash your hands immediately after use! (Kind of lessens the convenience of a wipe when you still have to go to the sink, huh?)
Ingredients in disinfecting Clorox wipes
Disinfectant chemicals called quaternary ammonium compounds “quats”, commonly found in wipes are especially problematic. These chemicals are skin irritants, can irritate your lungs, and have been linked to asthma and reproductive harm. The overuse of quats can also lead to the promotion of antibacterial-resistant bacteria (“superbugs”), which is bad news for everyone.

Wipe Out Tips:

  • Avoid disinfectant wipes including quaternary ammonium compounds “quats” — found on the label with names like:
    • Benzalkonium chloride
    • Benzethonium chloride
    • Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (C12-16)
    • Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (C14 60%, C16 30%, C12 5%, C18 5%)
    • Alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride (C12-14)
    • Alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chlorides (C12-18)
    • Didecyldimethylammonium chloride
    • Dioctyldimethylammonium chloride
  • Go old school and wipe surfaces with a wet microfiber cloth or paper towel, using a simple cleaner if necessary
  • Write letters to your school (while you’re at it why not send one to your gym, office, etc.) to raise awareness about quats. Click here for sample letters to schools and/or gyms.
  • If you really need the convenience of a wipe, (or are required to purchase wipes for your child’s school) try simpler wipes that do not contain disinfectants (like baby wipes) or look for disinfectant wipes using safer alternative chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, citric acid or thymol*

*Reminder: All pre-moistened wipes must include some form of chemical preservative to prevent bacteria growth in the package. Many preservatives used in wipes include parabens, formaldehyde releasers and MI/MCI which have also been associated with adverse health effects.


Related Articles:

– Four Tips For a Safer Back-to-School
– Three Things to Know About FDA’s Recent Ban on Triclosan
– Cleaning with Pesticides? Quit the Quats!
– Cleaning Products and Your Health: An Overview

17 Responses

  1. It’s so easy to use essential oils for disinfectant. Safe if you get quality essential oils. I train and ediucate people how to reduce the toxic load in their homes full time. It’s in your soaps, toothpaste, cleaners, shampoos, laundry detergent. So harmful and they disrupt hormones, cause skin and allergy issues. I help others worldwide and am happy to help anyone. Thanks for posting this article. Visit http://www.mydoterra.com/bird to learn more

  2. Savannah

    I just used Clorox Disinfectant Wipes (green and white container) to clean my yoga mat (I’ve been using the same mat for years) and then I did a workout on the mat. Everywhere that my skin touched the mat, I broke out in CRAZY hives all over just where the skin touched, even through my sweat pants. Apparently I’m allergic to Clorox Disinfectant Wipes. I wish the ingredient list listed more than 1% such and such and 99% “other additives”. I have no idea what I’m allergic to 🙁

  3. Shelby

    All I did was wipe the tip of a small paintbrush with a Lysol disinfectant wipe and my entire body broke out in hives. I’m waiting for the swelling to go down before I can concentrate on my art, again.

  4. Tish

    I can’t believe they allow this near children. This causes all types of sensory toxicity neurological poisoning. A much safer alternative, soap and water.

  5. Diane

    I agree. At work, they frequently order the Clorox Disilinfecting Wipes. I cannot stand the fumes that they Emit, which I feel are corrosive and highly toxic. After using then I often get sick headaches, which is a bad side effect from fumes.

    Several people who work around me and I also refuse to use these wipes, Again, because they too feel they are way too strong in any scent made and have bad after effects.

    I have asked the office support person to please purchase something healthier and more organic. I know Seventh Generation makes a disinfecting wile.

    I think anything but Clorox Wipes is a grave improvement.

    Just my experience.

  6. Jennifer McPhee

    I used Clorox wipes at my work for three days in a row and now I’m wheezing when I take a deep breath. I don’t think I have a cold, I have no other symptoms. Could the wipes be causing this???

  7. Hope S

    Interesting, but the author fails to leave any citations that claim what she says is true. In fact, the only link she leaves is about antibacterial hand soap and talks about much different chemicals. Anything can cause skin irritation and breathing issues in different people due to allergies, so I just can’t get on board with her stance until real evidence is provided.

  8. Elizabeth

    Hi Hope. Really good points. And we are always happy to provide the citations to back up any claims we make. There is a link to more on disinfectants and quats at the end of this article, but it is a little hidden. Here is a direct link to that fact sheet, which includes 13 citations to peer-reviewed scientific studies on quats and health. (Quats being the most common active ingredients found in disinfectant wipes.) And certainly zap us an email if there’s anything else we can help with. https://womensvoices.org/safe-cleaning-products/disinfectant-overkill-focus-on-quats/

  9. I love this article! My daughter suffers with severe reactions to chemicals. I recently switched to mechanically cleaning Norwex instead of chemically cleaning and can’t believe the change I’ve seen in not only her health, but my own. In a couple years she will be starting school, so I am reaching out to the principal at the school to inform him about how there are better ways to clean than with disinfectant wipes. We shall see how it goes. This is as a very well written, and informative article!

  10. Joanna

    I’m stopping the use of these toxic wipes, as convenient as they are. I noticed a while ago, that the strong fumes were making me irritated and gave me breathing issues, congestion, an allergy I guess. I just used them a bit ago and am concerned with possible severe reaction, took my claritin and am monitoring in case I need help. Very dangerous things.

  11. Nancy V

    My hand has been burning for 2 weeks now since using Clorox wipes. It is so raw and painful. I had to use it again the other day. This time I used a glove. Apparently it ate thru the glove and still burned me. Any class action lawsuits going?

  12. E

    I had the same problem as Nancy V. My hands were so burning painful for a few days, then all layers of skin got rock hard and cracked like paper cuts. My fingertips peeled off, it was so painful if the pain had finally left I would have gone to the hospital to get something to numb the pain. I have just one layer of skin on my fingertips right now, I have to keep them lubed with petroleum jelly, or creme so the skin won’t crack and start bleeding. Even if I wear
    gloves to clean,I still get burning in my skin. It’s been a painful lesson on wipes.

  13. Bonnie


  14. Amrit

    The Seventh Generation wipes are good to clean high touch surface areas and are safe around tge kitchen. You don’t need to wipe the surface the wipe has been used on with water after the surdace is dry as the wipes are food safe. As for the hands good old soap and water is the best or when soap and water are not available you can use a natural hand sanitzer like Dr Bronners spray on sanitizer.

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