Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 25, 2020

Not Reading Directions

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Some wipes, like the kind made with benzalkonium chloride, are only approved to kill bacteria. They might not work as well on viruses. Wipes with “disinfectant” on the label should kill bacteria, viruses, and mold. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) keeps a list of approved disinfectants on its website. Check the product’s label for the EPA registration number.

Drying Surfaces Too Fast

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They should stay visibly wet for a little while. The amount of time depends on the product’s ingredients and what germs you’re trying to kill. It could be anywhere from 15 seconds to 10 minutes. Read the label for directions. The EPA website will also tell you. You can search by the product’s registration number to find out more. 

Wiping Your Hands

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Some antibacterial wipes are OK for your hands. But don’t use disinfectant wipes. You could have an allergic reaction. It might make your skin red, itchy, and swollen. That’s called contact dermatitis. Harsh chemicals could cause even more problems on children’s hands.

Not Cleaning First

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Most wipes can do both. But lots of dirt and grime can make it hard for disinfectants to do their job. That’s why you should always clean a really dirty surface first. You can do that with soapy water or another household cleaner.

Using Them On Soft Surfaces

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Wipes aren’t made for stuff like carpet or couch fabric. One reason is they suck up moisture from the wipe. That means they don’t stay wet long enough for the chemicals to work. Wipes work better on hard, nonporous things like stainless steel and plastic. That’s where germs, like the virus that causes COVID-19, tend to stick around the longest. 

Cleaning Toys

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Kids put a lot of things in their mouth. That’s why you shouldn’t clean their toys with disinfectant or antibacterial wipes. Use mild soapy water instead. It might be OK to put some toys in the dishwasher.

Not Using Enough

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The wipe loses moisture the more you use it. You could spread germs from one surface to another if it gets too dry. Experts aren’t sure how much you can disinfect with one wipe. Studies show they may work best on 1-2 square feet if the surface stays wet long enough. So it’s probably OK to disinfect a couple of doorknobs or light switches with the same wipe.

Cleaning Fruits and Veggies

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A quick swipe over your apple may seem harmless. But you should never use cleaning products on your food. That includes wipes, soap, or a bleach mixture. Instead, wash your fruits and vegetables under running water. You can use a clean produce brush for an extra scrub. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel when you’re done.

Flushing Them Down the Toilet

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Wipes should go in the trash. The same goes for paper towels. They can clog your pipes or cause a sewage backup down the line. That’s because wipes -- even “flushable” ones -- don’t break up in water the way toilet tissue does. Overflows aren’t good for human health or the environment. Sewer spills can end up in lakes, rivers, or oceans.

Using Them to Clean Your Phone

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It might be OK to use disinfectant wipes on your smartphone. You can check with the company that makes your phone to be sure. But you shouldn’t do it too often. That could damage the fingerprint-resistant coating. You may want to get a wipeable cover to protect the screen. If you do use wipes on your phone, try to not get moisture near any opening.  Don’t use anything with bleach.

Leaving Them in Hot Places

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Wipes should be stored at room temperature. That’s about 70 F. It’s probably OK to keep a pack in your car if it’s cool outside. But they might dry out if you let them bake in the summer heat

Using Them on Pets or Their Dishes

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Animals can lick the chemicals on their bowls or fur. Only use shampoos or wipes made for grooming. Call your vet right away if your pet chews on a wipe and then throws up or has diarrhea. If you can’t reach your vet, you can call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

Sanitizing Too Much

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It’s important to disinfect surfaces that are touched a lot if someone is sick. But you don’t need to run wipes over everything in your house. Experts think the overuse of antimicrobial chemicals might kill good bacteria or lead to “superbugs.” Those are strong germs that are hard to kill.

Using Old Wipes

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Disposable wipes don’t typically expire. Some companies say their wipes will disinfect forever. But others say you should toss wipes a year or two after they’re made. While chemicals can break down over time, it’s more likely that your wipes will dry out. They can’t kill germs without moisture. The manufacturing date is on the label. Look for a string of letters and numbers: “MR20106” means the wipes were made on the 106th day of 2020.

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