Do Antibacterial Wipes Kill Viruses?

Not all wipes are created equal. And even though they seem similar, antibacterial wipes aren’t the same as the ones that disinfect.

They’re also not the same as disposable cleaning wipes. So when it’s time to kill viruses, bacteria, and other types of germs, it’s important to know which one’s best for the job. Here’s what’s inside this guide:

  1. What are antibacterial wipes?
  2. Antibacterial wipe ingredients: What kills viruses and bacteria?
  3. Do antibacterial wipes kill coronavirus?
  4. Can I use antibacterial wipes to clean my hands?
  5. Antibacterial vs. disinfectant: Is there a difference?

What are antibacterial wipes?

Not all wipes are created equal. And even though they seem similar, antibacterial wipes aren’t the same as the ones that disinfect.

They’re wipes soaked in cleaning solutions that kill bacteria. Antibacterial wipes kill germs (bacteria) on hard surfaces that are also “high-touch” like:

  • TV remotes
  • Doorknobs
  • Phones
  • Countertops
  • And so on

They’re especially useful for areas where babies eat and play. This is because antibacterial wipes are the same as sanitizing wipes. But they aren't the same as disinfecting wipes. Here’s a quick breakdown of the difference:

Antibacterial wipes (sanitizing wipes)

Antibacterial wipes (sanitizing wipes)

  • Kill bacteria
  • Reduces bacteria to a safe or acceptable level
  • Safe for hands or skin contact

Disinfecting wipes

Antibacterial wipes have some kind of bacteria-killing agent linke:

  • Benzethonium chloride
  • Benzalkonium chloride
  • Alcohol

These agents kill bacteria on hard surfaces and hands. But they don’t always kill viruses, and there are a few reasons for this.

1. Contact time
Disinfectants have to stay on surfaces for several minutes to completely kill viruses. This is called contact time or dwell time. If the surface doesn’t stay wet with disinfectant for long enough, the wipes can’t do their job. Plus, it’s important to clean surfaces with a cleaning solution before disinfecting.

Antibacterial hand wipes however usually only need a quick swipe or two. The antibacterial solution is strong enough to reduce bacteria to a safe level. And it doesn’t have to sit on hands or skin for minutes at a time.

But, antibacterial wipes designed for hard surfaces may have to sit for about 30 seconds. Before wiping surfaces with antibacterial wipes, clean them first with soap and water. Or use some kind of cleaning solution. Read the antibacterial wipe pack for instructions on how to use them properly.

2. Chemicals
Antibacterial wipes use different ingredients compared to disinfecting wipes. Antibacterial wipes usually have to be safe enough to use on the skin. So naturally, they’ll have less harsh ingredients.

Disinfectants have to kill all viruses, bacteria, and fungi. So they’re going to have way more ingredients — and they’re going to be harsher. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers disinfectants as pesticides. This is why there are strict regulations around what’s a sanitizer and what’s a disinfectant. And it’s why disinfecting wipes aren’t for:

  • Food processing plants, or food prep
  • Hand wipes
  • Baby wipes

Wear gloves when using disinfecting wipes, or wash hands immediately after use. This protects the skin from chemicals found in heavy duty wipes. Such wipes are with hospital grade disinfectant or other harsh ingredients.

Learn more about the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting in our newest article.

Do antibacterial wipes kill coronavirus?

The short answer is … maybe — but they shouldn’t be anyone’s only line of defense. When handwashing isn’t in the cards, hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes can get the job done in a pinch. But because of contact time and ingredients, they won’t kill 100% of all viruses.

Can I use antibacterial wipes to clean my hands?

Yes! But always check the label first. If the wipe pack says the wipes are antibacterial or sanitizing, go for it. But if they’re labeled as antibacterial AND disinfecting, that’s a no-go.

Disinfecting wipes aren’t designed for contact with human skin. They contain ingredients that strip away the skin's natural oils and “good” bacteria. This can lead to rashes, itchiness, and even swelling — especially for children.

How to use antibacterial hand wipes the right way

Antibacterial hand wipes are soaked in bacteria-killing chemicals. They’re safe for hands and contact with human skin. But if they’re not used correctly, they won’t kill as much bacteria as they could. Here’s how to get the most from hand wipes:

Check for FDA approval

The Food and Drug Administration or FDA regulates antibacterial hand wipes. This is because they have to be safe enough to use on hands or human skin. Note that antibacterial wipes aren’t designed for soft surfaces like clothes.

Read the directions

Most hand sanitizer wipes have the same directions — but it’s always best to be on the safe side. Check the dispenser’s directions for warnings and ingredients. Look for words like “disinfect.” This means those wipes aren’t safe for sanitizing hands.

Thoroughly wipe both hands

Use the antibacterial hand wipes to thoroughly go over each hand. Wipe front and back, in between fingers, and underneath fingernails for best results.

Use case: Sanitizing at the gym

Antibacterial wipes are great for on-the-go hand hygiene. But they’re also ideal for cleaning off gym equipment before and after use, and wiping off hands after a workout. Look for gym wipes that have antibacterial properties before your next visit.

Antibacterial vs. disinfectant: Is there a difference?

There’s absolutely a difference between antibacterial wipes and disinfecting wipes. Here’s a cheat-sheet to know when to use which:

Antibacterial Wipes

Disinfectant Wipes

Kills bacteria

Kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi

Safe to use on hands

Never safe to use on hands

Antibacterial wipes OK to use on hard surfaces

Disinfecting wipes OK to use on hard surfaces

Summary: Antibacterial wipes

Antibacterial wipes kill bacteria and get them down to an acceptable level. Plus, they’re ideal for sanitizing hands or areas where young children eat and play. But they aren’t the same thing as disinfecting wipes and shouldn’t be the only line of defense against viruses