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What are Wet Wipes?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Wet wipes, or moist towelettes, are small moistened paper towels that can be used to cleanse the hands, refresh the face, or commonly to clean up the diaper area when you are changing a baby. The first types came in small individual packages, and usually were moistened with scented water. The rubbing action did help to get the hands or face a little clean, but many people used them more to refresh than to cleanse.

When antibacterial soaps became popular, many wet wipes with antibacterial properties were offered. Generally, these contained water, fragrance and alcohol. These do help to more effectively cleanse hands, especially when access to handwashing apparatus is limited. The alcohol content helps them fight some viruses as well, and many schools now offer wipes or waterless handwash to children in each classroom for use on the way to lunch, or after trips to the bathroom.

Wet wipes are useful for cleaning up quick spills, especially those on carpets or pet messes. When they contain alcohol, they can help to disinfect areas of the carpet where blood has spilled or where pets have made messes. Specialized forms are those designed for use prior to giving urine samples that test for bacterial infections. Using antibacterial wipes prior to collecting urine can help keep the test from becoming corrupted by bacteria present on the skin.

Those used to clean a baby's bottom are often simply called baby wipes. In most cases, it’s undesirable for these to contain alcohol, since they can cause dryness and irritation to a baby’s skin. Some recent introductions include “flushable wipes,” not always a good idea if you have a septic system, and wipes with moisturizers or aloe vera. Many pediatricians recommend avoiding wet wipes when babies have excessive diaper rash, but instead to cleanse the area with soft reusable flannel cloths soaked with water. Though baby wipes are convenient, they’re not always the best choice.

Babies are relatively constant sources of messes of all types, and many moms keep wet wipes handy for quick spit-ups, food spills and the like. Moms may also use antibacterial ones to sanitize grocery carts, restaurant tables, or swings in the playground to reduce the exposure to germs. It’s not a bad idea to pack them in children’s lunches, so they can cut down on some germ exposure by washing their hands prior to eating.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By julies — On Aug 16, 2011

For as long as I can remember my mom has kept disposable wet wipes in small packets in her purse. Every time we go to a restaurant she will use these to wash her hands.

Sometimes she will even use them to wipe off the silverware to make sure it is clean. When I was younger I never gave this much thought, but now I realize how important it is to make sure your hands are clean before eating.

I don't carry wet wipes around with me in my purse, but will always have some with me when we go on a car trip.

If I run out of baby wipes, I will use wet wipes if I need to. I don't like to do this very often because the alcohol in the wet wipes is so drying, but they work in an emergency.

By Mykol — On Aug 15, 2011

I always keep a package of wet wipes in the car. Between the kids, their friends and the dogs, you never know what I am going to need them for.

There have been so many times when my kids needed to wipe their hands off or clean up something that spilled on the seat.

I really like the ones that are antibacterial that also helps keep their hands sanitized too. Having wet wipes with me in the car have saved me many times.

I have always used up the package before they have had a chance to get dry. I have even gotten to the point where I keep some behind each front seat so the kids have their own package and it's one less thing they have to fight over.

By Sinbad — On Aug 15, 2011

@tomislav - Oh yeah! Thanks for adding that. Yes, they do make those, and they have gotten good reviews - I just did not use them because wet wipes or moist toilettes can be less expensive and my hemorrhoids were not to a seriously painful level - just seriously annoying!

So yes, medicated pads for hemorrhoids do exist, but when your hemorrhoids get better I have also read to continue to use wet wipes to help prevent further hemorrhoids or another break out of them.

By Tomislav — On Aug 14, 2011

@geekish - I thought they had specific wet wipes for hemorrhoids? Like they treat the wipe for hemorrhoids by adding witch hazel or something like that to actually soothe the irritation...

By geekish — On Aug 14, 2011

I found another great use of wet wipes - if anyone has ever had hemorrhoids then you know how annoying and how painful they can be - well Wet Wipes can help you stop irritating them.

I read somewhere that our regular scratchy toilet paper can irritate the hemorrhoids, and I immediately thought "duh" of course they do. When you have an irritated part of your body in another area of your body you would not want to wipe the irritation with toilet paper you would probably opt for something nicer and softer.

Since learning this I have switched over to wet means of wiping and now I understand why people in European countries use a bidet - much nicer to your bum!

By Sara007 — On Aug 13, 2011

Carrying wet wipes in your wallet can be a great idea if you are heading out to eat at certain restaurants. I always take some with me when I am going out to have things like fried chicken, pizza or ribs with my friends.

It seems to me that napkins just don't do a very good job of cleaning your hands when they are covered in anything greasy. I hate touching things after a meal like that so I find that wet wipes make a fast solution.

Also, if you are worried about any kinds of germs you can buy wet wipes that have antibacterial properties so you don't have to worry about spreading anything icky around.

By wander — On Aug 13, 2011

For those that enjoy traveling wet wipes can be an amazing thing to keep you feeling clean even on the longest flights. I make a point of carrying a few packages of wet wipes in my carry-on so that I don't have to worry about feeling gross when I get off of an airplane.

Another great thing about wet wipes for travelers is that if you get stuck in a situation without true bathroom tissues, they can be a real life saver. I can think of more than one occasion that I have been in a foreign country and they just didn't have the same bathroom ideals as the West.

By cupcake15 — On Aug 12, 2011

@SauteePan - I noticed that a lot of grocery stores, banks and schools have these disposable wet wipes. It really makes a lot of sense especially in a grocery store because those grocery store carts probably have a ton of germs and it does make me feel better to be able to wipe down the cart before I use it.

I wanted to add that my gym in my condo building also has a disposable wet wipes machine so that people can clean the work out equipment before and after they workout.

I love this idea because there is a lot of bacteria that accumulates in these machines that you really have to wipe them down before and after you use them. Nobody likes to get on a work out machine that is filled with sweat. It is really disgusting.

By SauteePan — On Aug 12, 2011

I always have to buy a ton of wet wipes for my kids when they start school. It is always listed on their school supply list and I think that it is a great idea. I think that wet wipes are more hygienic than regular toilet paper and I always try to have a pack with me in my purse wherever I go because I can use them to clean my hands before I eat at a restaurant and I also have my kids do the same.

It isn’t as messy as hand sanitizer because whenever I give my kids hand sanitizer they always overdo it and it gets everywhere.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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