- Disinfecting wipes can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis
- They contain ingredients that are classified as pesticides
- Instead, use skin-friendly sanitizing wipes
Disinfecting wipes are NOT skin-friendly
Disinfecting wipes are great for extremely high-touch areas like:
- Public transportation
- Locker rooms
- Hospitals and emergency care centers
They’re effective because disinfectant wipes contain harsh chemicals like:
- Bleach (sodium hypochlorite)
- Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride*
- Benzalkonium chloride*
- Didecyldimethylammonium chloride*
- And others
These chemicals kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other types of germs. But those same chemicals aren’t safe for skin contact — especially for children.
That’s because disinfecting chemicals are also almost always pesticides. They can be toxic and lead to serious side effects, even if they briefly make contact with human skin. And disinfecting wipes are commonly advertised as school-friendly products. They’re marketed toward teachers, schools, and other childcare environments. But they also come with warnings like “keep out of reach of children.”
So when you’ve got dirt, grime, or other gross stuff on your hands, there are safer options. If there’s soap and water nearby, wash your hands. This gets rid of germs and bacteria if you wash properly.
If you can’t wash your hands, reach for hand sanitizer or sanitizing hand wipes. Sanitizer kills germs without stripping away your skin’s natural oil barrier. This means you get that clean feeling without all the harsh ingredients.
*Most notably disinfecting wipes have “quats” — or quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs). This group of chemicals includes any compound in the benzyl ammonium chloride family, which is also common in anti-bacterial products. Always read the label!
How to use disinfecting wipes the safe way
If you have disinfecting wipes, there’s a better way to use them than on your hands or skin. Follow these guidelines for a safer clean:
Limit how often you disinfect
Reserve disinfecting for the more extreme cases. Think toilets, doorknobs, and other high-risk surfaces.
Clean before you disinfect
Wash hard surfaces with soap or other cleaning solutions. This gets rid of dirt and grime first so the disinfectant can get in there and do a better job.
Keep disinfects away from children
Always keep disinfecting wipes away from children. This includes:
- Keeping wipes out of reach
- Using skin-friendly wipes instead for hands, face, or other body parts
- Avoid disinfecting surfaces that your baby touches (eating areas or play areas)
What happens if you use disinfecting wipes on skin?
The majority of disinfecting wipes contain common ingredients like:
- Ammonium chloride
Each of these ingredients are common skin irritants. They can cause itchiness, dryness, and/or redness. And even if you aren’t allergic to these substances, there’s a strong chance your skin will react poorly anyway. This is especially relevant for people with existing skin conditions:
- Sensitive skin
Contact dermatitis is a type of allergic reaction on the skin. It happens when your skin makes contact with certain substances. It’s commonly associated with:
Disinfectant wipes most notably contain preservatives like methylisothiazolinone. Some of them may also contain parabens or even formaldehyde releasers.
If you are allergic to these ingredients, you’re likely to have symptoms including:
- Dry and itchy skin
- Red skin rashes
- Damaged skin barrier
When this happens, cracked skin invites even more germs and bacteria inside the body. Instead, use wipes that are FDA-approved for contact with human skin.
Which wipes ARE safe for your skin?
Since disinfecting wipes aren’t skin-friendly, it's natural to wonder which wipes are OK to use. So here’s a cheat sheet of “skin approved” wipes:
- Designed for baby and toddler skin (delicate skin)
- Safe for bottoms, hands, and face
- Made with gentle cleansing formulas
Antibacterial hand wipes (aka sanitizing hand wipes)
- Also known as sanitizing wipes
- Designed to kill bacteria on hands
- Some brands contain moisturizing ingredients
- Like baby wipes, but for adults
- Made with effective but safe cleansing formulas
- Safe to use on skin
No matter what kind of wipe you use, look for formulas made with skin-friendly ingredients.
For example, some sanitizing wipes contain moisturizers like aloe. Aloe is known to counteract the drying effects of alcohol.
Other wipes are lightly scented with essential oils to avoid skin-irritating fragrances. And some formulas are safe to use around areas where babies eat and play.
The best way to find out which wipe formula is right for you is by checking the product label. Always read the label for ingredients, safety warnings, and instructions.
Which wipes ARE NOT safe for your skin?
As a general rule of thumb, wipes that weren’t designed for skin aren’t safe for skin. Think kitchen disinfecting wipes, bathroom disinfectants, and so on. Here’s a list of wipes that aren’t safe for skin contact:
Disinfecting wipes (kitchen, bathroom, or surface wipes)
Disinfectants are great for killing bacteria and other kinds of germs. But they’re harsh and they aren’t meant for cleaning skin (that’s what sanitizers are for).
Always wash hands after using kitchen disinfecting wipes (or any other type of disinfectant). And never chew on or swallow a wipe. Or drink any of the fluid found at the bottom of a disinfecting wipe container.
Lens wipes (cameras, glasses, or screens)
Lens wipes are also made with chemicals that aren’t skin-friendly. They’re commonly used to clean hard surfaces like:
- Camera lenses
- Computer, TV, and phone screens
After using a pre-moistened lens wipe, always wash your hands. This washes away any harsh chemicals that may lead to irritation or dermatitis.
Any wipe made with bleach or other harsh chemicals
Bleach is a powerful chemical that’s great for killing germs, viruses, and so on. It’s ideal for disinfecting hard surfaces. But if it’s not diluted properly, or if it stays on the skin for too long, it’s counterproductive.
That’s because bleach can lead to surface damage and skin irritation. And in some cases, bleach can also trigger asthma.
Regardless of how a wipe is advertised, always check the label. Look for ingredients like bleach, ammonium chloride, and so on.
Summary: Disinfecting wipes on skin
Kitchen disinfecting wipes, and other disinfectant wipes, aren’t safe for skin contact. They’re made with harsh ingredients that can lead to:
- Skin irritation
- Contact dermatitis
Don’t use disinfecting wipes to clean your hands, face, or any other body part. Instead, reach for skin-friendly sanitizing wipes. They’re a safe alternative and are specifically designed with human skin in mind.