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Cleaning wipes are a common find in households. They offer a convenient way to clean with specific wipes for different surfaces such as stainless steel, countertops, glass, and wooden furniture.
Kitchen disinfecting wipes are the type of wipe exposure most often called in to Poison Control. These wipes are mostly water but also contain detergents, antimicrobials, and other components to boost their effectiveness. The detergents in these products can sound dangerous. For example: alkyl dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride and alkyl dimethylethylbenzyl ammonium chloride. These components are cationic detergents that can cause chemical burns in high concentrations; however, in the wipes they are only 0.01-0.1%. This concentration is high enough to break apart a bacterial cell wall, just as hand soap does, but not high enough to break down human skin. Some kitchen disinfecting wipes use hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, or ethanol in conjunction with a detergent or alone.
Depending on the brand, ingredients can be made from natural products or manufactured. In general, the source of the ingredients (natural versus man-made) does not change the efficacy or toxicity.
If a kitchen disinfecting wipe is put into the mouth or if some of the fluid at the bottom of the container is swallowed, superficial irritation can occur. If enough fluid is swallowed, one or two episodes of vomiting could also occur. The person exposed should first rinse their mouth out with water and then take small sips of water to clear the throat.
Consider whether you actually need disinfecting wipes. When simply wiping down a surface, a baby wipe will accomplish the same goal and does not contain additional chemicals. If there was raw food on the counter top or if someone in the household has a weakened immune system, then disinfecting wipes might make sense.
Disinfecting wipes are used by hand and because of this are relatively safe when used properly. However, they are not meant to be chewed on or swallowed, and bathroom disinfecting wipes could be harsher on the mouth or throat than kitchen wipes. The symptoms described above—superficial superficial irritation and vomiting—might be more likely.
Other surface cleaning wipes (glass, furniture, and stainless steel) are mild irritants. If a wipe is found in the mouth, rinse gently with water and offer something to drink. Furniture and stainless steel products can contain small amounts of a hydrocarbon or oily substance. These products could cause skin irritation when handled by a child (a child's skin is more delicate). Simply wash the skin with soap and water.
If you are worried about an exposure to cleaning wipes, check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Whether you log on or call, expert assistance is available 24 hours a day.
Pela Soto, PharmD, BSHS, BS
Certified Specialist in Poison Information