What to Know About Using Cleaning Wipes for the Coronavirus

Cleaning wipes are a hot commodity during the pandemic.

One of the most sought-after and hardest to find products at your local supermarket is probably cleaning and disinfecting wipes. As the coronavirus and COVID-19 have rightly turned us all into germophobes, we are looking for ways to clean and disinfect our homes and other public spaces to reduce the spread of the virus. But many of us may have some important questions about this increasingly essential product: How do these wipes work? Which ones are best? What should you know to use them safely and effectively?

How do cleaning wipes kill germs?

There are two main ways of getting rid of germs: The first is physical removal (cleaning), and the second is chemical inactivation (disinfection). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting refers to using chemicals, for example, Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants, to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Cleaning wipes count as physical removal. “Some wipes also contain an added disinfectant, so they kind of combine cleaning and disinfection,” says Erica Marie Hartmann, an assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University. “But you have to make sure that you’ve adequately cleaned for disinfection to really take place.”

What chemicals are most effective?

Most cleaning wipes contain water, detergent and some fragrance, as well as an added disinfectant, such as alcohol or quaternary ammonium compounds. “What will really make a difference in terms of how well they disinfect is that added active ingredient. But what you the consumer will most probably notice is the fragrance and whether or not it leaves a residue,” says Hartmann, who studies the effects of different chemicals on microbes.

Do wipes kill all bacteria and viruses?

For cleaning, soap, alcohol and bleach are effective against most bacteria and viruses. Some products also contain added antimicrobials, which might help with some kinds of bacteria but have no effect on viruses like the coronavirus. “In general, I suggest avoiding added antimicrobials, which can potentially lead to an increase in antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs,'” Hartmann advises.

How long should you leave surfaces wet?

The amount of time you should leave surfaces wet after using cleaning wipes varies according to the product. Make sure you read the label and follow directions to ensure the best results.

How often and when should you clean?

“If you are alone in your home and not going out, you probably don’t have to clean for coronavirus very often,” Hartmann says. “But if you’re having visitors and you suspect that your visitor was sick or had been in contact with someone who was, you might want to clean and disinfect, specifically the surfaces that they were touching or may have coughed on.”

Current evidence suggests that the bigger concern for disease transmission is while you are in the room with your visitor, not after they have left, Hartmann adds. “In this case, cleaning is your last resort. Instead, encourage visitors to take a rain check if they aren’t feeling well or suspect that they may be infected.”

What are the wrong ways to clean and disinfect?

Of course you should always read the label and use cleaning products as directed. And do not mix cleaning products. Some products can interact in dangerous and harmful ways — mixing bleach and ammonia, for example, can produce dangerous, toxic fumes, the CDC says.

Do botanical wipes work?

Some disinfecting brands are marketed as “botanical” and list thymol as their active ingredient. Thymol is listed on the products that are EPA-approved for use against SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. “Note that the necessary contact times range from four to 10 minutes,” Hartmann says.

Check out the full list of EPA-approved COVID-19 disinfectants.

Are cleaning wipes necessary?

Not at all. “With regard to coronavirus, the best way to clean anything and everything is soap and water,” Hartmann says. If you can’t clean with soap and water, the CDC recommends alcohol, at least 70% concentration, or bleach. “You don’t need to use cleaning wipes. Alcohol or bleach and a paper towel or a clean cloth are great.” Be sure to follow the directions and be careful, especially with bleach.

Also remember that cleaning is only one part of preventing the spread of disease. “Cleaning wipes are not a substitute for social distancing or wearing a mask,” Hartmann says.

A word of caution against over-cleaning:

There are microbes everywhere, including all around your home, and the vast majority of them are not harmful, Hartmann says. “The microbes were there before this coronavirus, and they will continue to be there after it’s long gone. The problem is that our disinfectants do not distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbes. So in trying to get rid of viruses, we are exposing bacteria to disinfectants. The more you expose bacteria to disinfectants, the more likely they are to develop resistance, both to the disinfectant itself and sometimes also to medically necessary antibiotics. Bacteria, which may otherwise be harmless, can thus become very problematic.” So be sure to use cleaning wipes and other disinfectants in moderation and with care.

Key questions about using cleaning wipes for the coronavirus:

— How do cleaning wipes kill germs?

— What chemicals are most effective?

— Do wipes kill all bacteria and viruses?

— How long should you leave surfaces wet?

— How often and when should you clean?

— What are the wrong ways to clean and disinfect?

— Do botanical wipes work?

— Are cleaning wipes necessary?

More from U.S. News

What Are the Symptoms of Coronavirus?

Coronavirus Prevention Steps That Do or Do Not Work

Ways to Boost Your Immune System

What to Know About Using Cleaning Wipes for the Coronavirus originally appeared on usnews.com

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up