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An individually-wrapped wet wipe
Wet wipes on a shelf

A wet wipe, also known as a wet towel, moist towelette, disposable wipe, disinfecting wipe, or a baby wipe (in specific circumstances) is a small to medium-sized moistened piece of plastic[1] or cloth that either comes folded and individually wrapped for convenience or, in the case of dispensers, as a large roll with individual wipes that can be torn off. Wet wipes are used for cleaning purposes like personal hygiene and household cleaning; each is a separate product depending on the chemicals added and medical or office cleaning wipes are not intended for skin hygiene.

In 2013, owing to increasing sales of the product in affluent countries, Consumer Reports reported that efforts to make the wipes "flushable" down the toilet had not entirely succeeded, according to their test.[2]


American Arthur Julius is seen as the inventor of wet wipes.[3] Julius worked in the cosmetics industry and in 1957, adjusted a soap portioning machine, putting it in a loft in Manhattan. Julius trademarked the name Wet-Nap in 1958, a name for the product that is still being used. After fine tuning his new hand-cleaning aid together with a mechanic, he unveiled his invention at the 1960 National Restaurant Show in Chicago and in 1963 started selling Wet-Nap products to Colonel Harland Sanders to be distributed to customers of Kentucky Fried Chicken.[4]


A wet wipe dispenser

Ninety percent of wet wipes on the market are produced from nonwoven fabrics made of polyester or polypropylene.[5]

The material is moistened with water or other liquids (e.g., isopropyl alcohol) depending on the applications. The material may be treated with softeners, lotions, or perfume to adjust the tactile and olfactory properties. Preservatives such as methylisothiazolinone are used to prevent bacterial or fungal growth in the package. The finished wet wipes are folded and put in pocket size package or a box dispenser.


Wet wipes can serve a number of personal and household purposes.[6] Although marketed primarily for wiping infants' bottoms in diaper changing, it is not uncommon for consumers to also use the product to clean floors, toilet seats, and other surfaces around the home. Parents also use wet wipes, or as they are called for baby care, baby wipes, for wiping up baby vomit and to clean babies' hands and faces.[7]

Baby wipes

Baby wipes are wet wipes used to cleanse the sensitive skin of infants. These are saturated with solutions anywhere from gentle cleansing ingredients to alcohol-based "cleaners". Baby wipes are typically different pack counts (ranging up to 80 or more sheets per pack), and come with dispensing mechanisms. The origin of baby wipes most likely came in the mid-1950s as more people were travelling and needed a way to clean up on the go. One of the first companies to produce these was a company called Nice-Pak. They made napkin sized paper cloth saturated with a scented skin cleanser.

The first wet-wipe products specifically marketed as baby wipes, such as Kimberly-Clark's Huggies wipes and Procter & Gamble's Pampers wipes, appeared on the market in 1990.[8] As the technology to produce wipes matured and became more affordable, smaller brands began to appear.[citation needed] By the 1990s, most super stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart had their own private label brand of wipes made by other manufacturers. After this period there was a boom in the industry and many local brands started manufacturing because of low entry barriers.

In December 2018, a New Zealand company launched the country's first ever wet and baby wipe alternative, the BDÉT Foam Wash.

Toilet wet wipes

Toilet wet wipes are sometimes preferred to standard toilet paper. Many brands sell toilet wet wipes, claiming they are "flushable". However, they do not decompose in septic tanks as they are made of polyester or polypropylene. In 2013 a Consumer Reports article said that none of the leading brands could pass their test.[9]

Personal hygiene

Wet wipes are often included as part of a standard sealed cutlery package offered in restaurants or along with airline meals.

Wet wipes began to be marketed as a luxury alternative to toilet paper by 2005 by companies such as Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble.[10] They are dispensed in the toilets of restaurants, service stations, doctors' offices, and other places with public use.

Wet wipes have also found a use among visitors to outdoor music festivals, particularly those who camp, as an alternative to communal showers.[citation needed]

Cleansing pads

Cleansing pads are fiber sponges which have been previously soaked with water, alcohol and other active ingredients for a specific intended use. They are ready to use hygiene products and they are simple and convenient solutions to dispose of dirt or other undesirable elements.

There are different type of cleansing pads offered by the beauty industry: make-up removing pads, anti-spot treatments and anti-acne pads that usually contain salicylic acid, vitamins, menthol and other treatments.[11]

Cleansing pads for preventing infection are usually saturated with alcohol and bundled in sterile packages. Hands and instruments may be disinfected with these pads while treating wounds. Disinfecting cleansing pads are often included in first aid kits for this purpose. Since the outbreak of H1N1 sales of individual impregnated wet wipes and gels in sachets and flowpacks have dramatically increased in the UK following the Government's advice to keep hands and surfaces clean to prevent the spread of germs.

Industrial wipes

Pre-impregnated industrial-strength cleaning wipes with powerful cleaning fluid that cuts through the dirt as the high performance fabric absorbs the residue. Industrial wipes has the ability to clean a vast range of though substances from hands, tools and surfaces, including: grime, grease, oil- and water-based paints and coatings, adhesives, silicone and acrylic sealants, poly foam, epoxy, oil, tar and more.[12]

Pain relief

There are pain relief pads sopping with alcohol and benzocaine. These pads are good for treating minor scrapes, burns, and insect bites. They disinfect the injury and also ease pain and itching.

Pet care

Wet wipes are produced specifically for pet care, for example eye, ear, or dental cleansing pads (with boric acid, potassium chloride, zinc sulfate, sodium borate) for dogs, cats, horses, and birds.


Medical wet wipes are available for various applications. These include alcohol wet wipes, chlorhexidine wipes (for disinfection of surfaces and noninvasive medical devices) and sporicidal wipes.[13] Medical wipes can be used to prevent the spread of pathogens such as norovirus and Clostridium difficile.[14]

Effect on sewage systems

Water management companies ask people not to flush wet wipes down toilets, as their failure to break apart or dissolve in water can cause sewer blockages known as fatbergs.[15][16]

Since the mid-2000s, wet wipes such as baby wipes have become more common for use as an alternative to toilet paper in affluent countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. This usage has in some cases been encouraged by manufacturers, who have labelled some wet wipe brands as "flushable". Wet wipes, when flushed down the toilet, have been reported to clog internal plumbing, septic systems and public sewer systems.[17][18][16] The tendency for fat and wet wipes to cling together allegedly encourages the growth of the problematic obstructions in sewers known as "fatbergs".[19][20] In addition, some brands of wipes contain alcohol, which can kill the bacteria and breakdown enzymes responsible for breaking down solid waste in septic tanks.[21] In the late 2010s, other alternatives such as gel wipe had also come on to the market.[22][23]

In 2014, a class action suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against Target Corporation, and Nice-Pak Products Inc. on behalf of consumers in Ohio who purchased Target-brand flushable wipes. The lawsuit alleged the retailer misled consumers by marking the packaging on its Up & Up brand wipes as flushable and safe for sewer and septic systems. The lawsuit also alleged that the products were a public health hazard because they clogged pumps at municipal waste-treatment facilities.[24] Target and Nice-Pak agreed to settle the case in 2018.[25]

In 2015, the city of Wyoming, Minnesota, launched a class action suit against six companies, including Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and Nice-Pak, alleging they were fraudulently promoting their products as "flushable".[10][26] The city dropped the lawsuit in 2018 after concluding that the city had not experienced damage to its sewer systems or a rise in maintenance costs.[27] Upon announcement of the withdrawal of the suit, an industry trade group representing the manufacturers of the wipes released a statement that disputed the claims that the products are harmful to sewer systems.

The withdrawal by the City of Wyoming and last year's settlement terms of the Perry litigation corroborate what years of testing and field collection studies have shown: flushable wipes are not causing municipal clogs or increased maintenance. To date, despite sensational headlines, no wastewater operator has offered any public evidence that its maintenance issues are impacted by wipes marketed as 'flushable' and passing the industry assessment tests.

— David Rouse, president of INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (August 2018)[27]

In 2019, the industry body Water UK announced a new standard for flushable wet wipes. Wipes will need to pass rigorous testing in order to gain a new and approved "Fine to Flush" logo. As of January 2019, only one product had been confirmed to meet the standard, although there were about seven others in the process of being tested.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita". the BBC. 18 June 2019.
  2. ^ Atasağun, Hande G.; Bhat, Gajanan S. (2020). "Advancement in flushable wipes: Modern technologies and characterization". Journal of Industrial Textiles. 49 (6): 722–747. doi:10.1177/1528083718795910. S2CID 139174544.
  3. ^ "When was the Wet-Nap introduced?".
  4. ^ Dixler, Hillary (17 June 2016). "A Brief History of the Wet-Nap, Barbecue Sauce's Worst Nightmare".
  5. ^ Pajda, Aleksandra (7 May 2018). "Did You Know Wet Wipes Are Made with Plastic? This Is Why the UK Wants Them Banned". One Green Planet. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  6. ^ Rockline, Product line
  7. ^ Horovitz, Bruce (11 July 2002). "More consumers whip out wet wipes". USA Today. Retrieved 16 November 2010.
  8. ^ "Historical Journey: An Interactive Timeline". Kimberly-Clark. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  9. ^ "Think twice about flushing wet wipes". 27 December 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2021. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ a b Kessler, Matt (14 October 2016). "Are Wet Wipes Wrecking the World's Sewers?". The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  11. ^ "Acne Myths, Etc. - Are Cleansing Pads Good for Acne?".
  12. ^ "Supplier of Recycled Wiping Cotton rags, Cleaning rags with bag or box of rag wipers cloth". Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  13. ^ "Healthcare Wipes". 30 October 2015.
  14. ^ "Clostridium Difficile Prevention - C. Difficile Wipes". Pal International. Archived from the original on 10 December 2014. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  15. ^ Taylor, Matthew (12 December 2017). "Wet wipes make up 93% of matter causing UK sewer blockages". The Guardian. London.
  16. ^ a b Regan, Alex (4 March 2015). "Wet wipes caused sewage flood in garden", Oxford Mail
  17. ^ Shaver, Katherine (7 September 2013). 'Flushable' personal wipes clogging sewer systems, utilities say, The Washington Post
  18. ^ Stradling, Richard (31 May 2009). "'Flushable' wipes blamed for clogging sewage lines", Seattle Times
  19. ^ "Oxford 'out-of-control fatberg' threatens homes". BBC News. 1 April 2014.
  20. ^ "Sewer repairs means 14 days of chaos ahead". Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  21. ^ Conte, Chris (12 Sep 2013). "Flushable Wipes Creating Messy Septic Issues",
  22. ^ Saat, Siim (25 June 2016). "New Product Development: GEL WIPE by SATU". LinkedIn.
  23. ^ Kart, Jeff (15 June 2018). "Toilet Paper Gel Cleans Up No. 2 In More Ways Than One". Forbes.
  24. ^ Cellini, Lorenzo B.; Tycko & Zavareei LLP (18 April 2014). "Class Action Lawsuit Alleges That Target-Brand Flushable Wipes Are Not Suitable for Flushing and Can Clog Pipes and Damage Sewer and Septic Systems". The National Law Review. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  25. ^ "Target Flushable Wipes Class Action Settlement". 7 May 2018.
  26. ^ ""The most terrible evil": the harm of wet wipes and how to replace them".
  27. ^ a b "City of Wyoming bows out of flushable wipes lawsuit".
  28. ^ "Wet wipes to get 'Fine to Flush' logo to tackle fatbergs". BBC News. 11 January 2019.