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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.