When you need to keep your surfaces clean and sanitary, antibacterial wipes are likely to be your handy go-to. And if you’re a parent, you may be disinfecting your home on a regular basis, as that way your children won’t pick up any nasty bugs when touching everything in sight. But despite their useful germ-killing capabilities, antibacterial wipes aren’t always the best choice for your kitchen. In fact, when it comes to your kids, these household staples may do more harm than good.
Even so, antibacterial wipes remain hugely popular, as they provide a quick and easy way to sterilize practically anything around. And since it’s incredibly simple to pick up a pack or two at the grocery store or online, it’s perhaps no surprise that we’re buying so many of these super-speedy sanitizers.
For example, in 2011 Scientific American claimed that three-quarters of American homes use some form of antibacterial product. Wipes are just as popular across the pond, too. In 2019 it was revealed that the U.K. goes through more than 11 billion of them annually.
And, naturally, the 2020 pandemic has led to sales of antibacterial items going through the roof in the U.S. But if you have children, you may want to think again before heading into a store for cleaning wipes – as they don’t keep your kids as free from harm as you may think.
Before we get into that, though, let’s redirect our focus to one of those aforementioned statistics. It turns out, you see, that the 11 billion antibacterial wipes used every 12 months in the U.K. are causing some major issues – particularly when it comes to the environment.
In essence, it’s all about the materials from which these wipes are made. The plastics contained within these household staples can’t be easily broken down once they’ve been discarded, and this in turn can lead to real problems at garbage dumps and in sewers.
In 2019 U.K. newspaper Metro revealed that more than 90 percent of the country’s sewage obstructions were caused by discarded wipes. On top of that, the products have apparently been accumulating in overground waterways. And, of course, this is all cause for real concern.
Natalie Fee, who runs a campaigning group called City to Sea, is among those who know exactly how discarded wipes can prove detrimental to the environment. When speaking to Metro, however, she offered up a radical solution to the issue – and it’s one that may not be popular with some.
“The problems with wet wipes are threefold,” Fee explained. “[There are] those that are flushed, clog up our pipes and sewers and contribute to giant fatbergs. This then makes our sewage systems overflow and other plastics spill into our waterways and seas, putting marine life at risk.”
Fee continued, “[The antibacterial wipes] that are discarded in the [trash] will often end up in landfills or get incinerated, contributing to carbon emissions.” So, what solution does City to Sea recommend? “Ideally, we want people to stop using [these wipes] and treat them like they would any other single-use plastic,” Fee explained.
According to City to Sea, beaches around the U.K. endured a fourfold rise in washed-up wipes over a ten-year period. It’s also believed that nearly $130 million a year is spent to clear obstructions in British sewers. And such statistics have also proved concerning to the Marine Conservation Society’s Rachel Wyatt.
“Wet wipes are designed to be used once only, and [they] tend to generate lots of waste in the environment as a result,” Wyatt told Metro. “There are lots of reusable cleaning cloths, makeup wipes [and] baby wipes… now on the market. [They] cut down on waste going to landfill and could save consumers cash in the long run.”
“However, we know wet wipes can be really handy,” Wyatt added. “And so [we] hope that consumers put these into the [trash] – regardless of whether they are labeled flushable or otherwise environmentally friendly – until they are labeled with the ‘fine to flush’ logo. It’s the only way to be sure.”
It helps, too, that there are now plenty of alternatives to antibacterial wipes. And these products are not only much better for the planet, but they also have other more immediate benefits – like saving you a few dollars, for example.
Bamboo wipes, for one, can be a cost-effective way of cleaning your home. Unlike their antibacterial counterparts, they can be used several times on any surface you like. All you need to do is wash off any accumulated grime under a tap before getting to work again.
Some bamboo products may be useful for parents with young babies as well, as they are often largely free of harmful substances. And to top it all off, bamboo wipes are biodegradable, which means they can be broken down in the trash.
But disposable wipes aren’t just used to scrub the house. They’re also popular for removing make-up – even if the wipe-and-go method may not be the best idea for your skin on a long-term basis. Yet again, though, there’s a much more environmentally friendly alternative.
The MakeUp Eraser is a two-sided cloth that, as its name suggests, removes all traces of cosmetics from your skin. And best of all, the product can be used more than once. To freshen up the MakeUp Eraser, simply place it in with your load when you’re doing laundry.
In other instances, a simple kitchen cloth could be just as useful as an antibacterial wipe. Just dampen the material and add soap, then clean the parts of the home that need some TLC. And, of course, that way you don’t need to throw anything into the garbage after completing the job.
If you’re specifically looking for a solution to keep your surroundings sanitary, though, get hold of some rubbing alcohol. This is readily available at drugstores around the country, and it can play an important role in killing both bacteria and germs.
Rubbing alcohol consists of water and either isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. And, together, these substances have the ability to cleanse away any harmful microbes that reside on household surfaces. There’s something else to consider if you’re looking to get your hands on a bottle, though.
In particular, you should take a look at the concentration of rubbing alcohol before you buy. Typically, commercially available products will contain anything from around 70 percent to up to 91 percent alcohol – and the higher that number is, the more effective the liquid is likely to be at staving off germs.
If you can’t find a high-strength rubbing alcohol at a store near you, though, don’t panic. As it turns out, products that contain at least 70 percent alcohol will be good enough to fend off bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But despite everything that we’ve discussed so far, there’ll still be some of us who want to stick with what we know. After all, antibacterial wipes are both easy to use and good at removing grime. And they’re just as effective as the other items we’ve talked about, right?
Well, actually, that may not be the case at all. A 2015 study from Wales, for example, uncovered some problems concerning the use of antibacterial wipes in medical facilities. And the results of the research could have real implications for our cleaning at home, too.
According to the study, antibacterial wipes can actually transmit germs if they’re used a certain number of times. If you start scrubbing a different area of the house with the same wipe, then, you run the risk of transferring the bacteria to that area. In 2015 Queen Mary University of London professor John Oxford spoke more about this alarming phenomenon to the Daily Mail.
“Wipes should be used for no more than five swipes before they are discarded,” Oxford said. “Certainly, you need at least one for each square meter of surface area. And if the wipe is too dry, possibly because it has been badly stored or overused, then it should be discarded because the active ingredient has evaporated or been used up.”
Oxford then discussed what you’d usually find in an antibacterial wipe. “Different wipes contain different chemicals that kill microbes – including bacteria and viruses – in a variety of ways,” he continued. “Typically, alcohol is the main chemical in wet wipes.”
“[Alcohol] kills bacteria by denaturing – or breaking down – the structure of the proteins in the bugs’ cells,” Oxford added. “Wipes can also contain bleach, which promotes oxidation in the cells, leading to their death. Wipes that contain old-fashioned soap work, too, because soap is antibacterial, helping to destroy fats in the cell walls of bacteria and viruses.”
But while Oxford has suggested that such ingredients are effective in exterminating germs, another expert wasn’t so sure. Alexandra Scranton is currently the director of science and research at the organization Women’s Voices for the Earth, and she has fears surrounding the use of antibacterial wipes around kids.
In a 2015 blog post on the Women’s Voices for the Earth website, Scranton wrote, “Killing germs [has] never [been] so easy – and it feels like we are doing a better job of protecting our children from illness. Except we probably aren’t.”
“Contrary to popular belief, the data just isn’t there,” Scranton explained. “Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits that there is no evidence that cleaning with disinfectants is any better at preventing illness than cleaning with regular soap and water.”
Scranton also claimed that the contents of an antibacterial wipe have the potential to agitate your skin. But perhaps most worryingly of all, she claimed that certain ingredients found in these wipes could hurt both adults and children alike.
“Disinfectant chemicals called quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), commonly found in wipes, are especially problematic,” Scranton continued. “These chemicals are skin irritants, can irritate your lungs and have been linked to asthma and reproductive harm. The overuse of quats can also lead to the promotion of antibacterial-resistant bacteria, which is bad news for everyone.”
Benzethonium chloride and benzalkonium chloride are both classified as quats, and so products containing these compounds are best avoided. Ortho-phenylphenol, which can also be found in wipes, is even believed to be potentially carcinogenic. These aren’t the only things to worry about, either.
Thanks to these chemicals, your children may already be at risk at home if you overuse the same antibacterial wipes. And, unfortunately, the situation may be similar at school. In Scranton’s blog post, she claimed that many kids were required to take a “canister of disinfecting wipes” with them when starting their classes for the year.
There’s something else to consider, too. When you use a wipe, you need to utilize a certain method to ensure that the area in question is properly sanitized. Yes, you can’t simply slide the material across a grimy surface and call it a day.
Instead, you have to clean the dirty area before pulling out a wipe – which may seem a little counterintuitive. You’re also advised to leave the antibacterial residue produced by a wipe for a few minutes as it dries into the surface. Then, from there, you finally rinse the surface with water.
According to the Healthy Schools Network group, following this process will get rid of any lingering bacteria in the area. Yet owing to the amount of time and effort the method entails, schools may not always be as thorough – leaving kids at risk of transferring germs even if antibacterial wipes are used.
But for any concerned parents out there, Scranton offered up a final point in her blog. “If you really need the convenience of a wipe or are required to purchase wipes for your child’s school, try simpler wipes that do not contain disinfectants,” she concluded. “Or [you should] look for disinfectant wipes using safer alternative chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, citric acid or thymol.”
And there’s yet another everyday item that could pose a real danger – especially if you leave it in your car. Yes, that seemingly innocuous bottle of water you have hanging around your vehicle could actually cause a potentially deadly accident, as one man found out to his cost.
During the summer, it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated – particularly if you’re out in the sun for a while. And, handily, there are a variety of options out there by which to achieve this – through sipping from a public fountain, for instance, or taking swigs from plastic water bottles. But those wanting to boost their water intake should take heed of Dioni Amuchastegui’s worrying experience.
On a hot day in Boise, Idaho, in July 2017, Amuchastegui was taking a well-earned break from his job. After glancing quickly at his truck, though, the power company worker happened to notice something quite troubling. According to Amuchastegui, smoke was starting to billow inside the vehicle.
Naturally, then, Amuchastegui investigated the issue, after which he realized that the smoke was emanating from one of the truck’s front seats. When the technician finally discovered the cause of the problem, however, it left him somewhat shocked.
Before the incident, you see, Amuchastegui had put a plastic bottle of water on one of the seats. Then, as the sun had beamed down on the truck, the bottle had become a makeshift lens, magnifying the rays of light onto the seats’ material. And after this scary event, the vehicle owner looked to spread the word about this potential fire hazard via social media.
For many people across the world, summer is the most enjoyable time of the year. Temperatures are often high during the season, after all, and balmy weather may make leaving the house an much more pleasant prospect. If the heat gets too intense, however, there could be some drawbacks.
Car owners in particular have to be extremely vigilant during the summer months, as the hot weather can cause a number of problems. Leaving an animal or a youngster alone in a vehicle, for instance, becomes even more potentially dangerous – and that’s certainly not all.
You see, if a motorist leaves their vehicle in the sun for some time, the interior will absorb the heat. When the driver eventually returns and opens the door, then, an intense burst of warm air will come out of the car. The dash, the steering wheel and the seats may all feel incredibly hot, too.
In those conditions, the driver can either wait for the interior to cool down or brave their next journey in the uncomfortable heat. Whatever they choose to do, though, they also have a responsibility to keep themselves hydrated on the road.
But why is it important to keep your water levels topped up when traveling from A to B? Well, a study from the U.K.’s Loughborough University has discovered that dehydrated motorists could pose a big danger when behind the wheel. In much the same way as drunk drivers, they may suffer impairments of their abilities – thus making accidents more likely.
In a 2018 report about the findings, British newspaper The Sun explained, “A survey by Leasing Options found a whopping 84 percent of motorists felt [that drunk-driving] was far more dangerous than not having enough water.” Worrying, the publication added, “Around three in five Brits had no idea of the risks [of dehydration at the wheel] at all.”
And it seems that such ignorance may have a knock-on effect. “With just under 70 percent of accidents on U.K. roads being attributed to driver error, dehydration could be a major factor in motorists losing focus and being involved in a collision,” The Sun further explained.
Leasing Options’ Mike Thompson therefore offered up some advice to drivers who were facing hot weather. “Showing caution and drinking more water will not only have a positive effect on the body, but [it] will also ensure [that] motorists stand a far greater chance of reaching their destination safe and well,” he told The Sun.
And Thompson’s words of wisdom didn’t end there. “When starting your car ready for the morning commute, you may not think [that] drinking an extra glass of water before leaving the house would affect your driving abilities,” he said to the newspaper. “But you would be wrong – so make it your prerogative.”
“Try carrying a water bottle in the car, or have an extra glass of water at the beginning and end of your working day to avoid dehydrated driving,” Thompson further recommended. However, that first suggestion may bring with it some risks if Amuchastegui’s story is anything to go by.
During a scorching hot day in Boise in July 2017, Amuchastegui had taken a break inside his vehicle. While tucking into his lunch, though, the technician noticed something alarming: one of the front seats had started to smoke. Thankfully, he was at least able to prevent his truck from bursting into flames.
Then, after putting the smoke out, Amuchastegui came to a surprising realization: the incident had been caused by a plastic bottle of water on the seat, as this had acted like a lens of sorts in the sun. But while the man later recounted what had happened to some of his co-workers, they found the tale hard to believe.
“A lot of people on [Amuchastegui’s] team thought he was making it up,” Melissa Thom recalled to CBS News in August 2017. “Everybody was shocked.” And Amuchastegui looked to share his experience with the world, too – not least because other motorists may not know about the potential fire hazards in their cars.
Amuchastegui’s employer, Idaho Power, went on to film a short video about the incident that was ultimately shared on Facebook. Titled “Safety Check: Water Bottle in a Hot Car,” the clip opens up with an introduction from the technician, who casts his mind back to that hot day in his truck.
“So, I was taking an early lunch and sitting in the truck,” Amuchastegui recalls in the social media video. “[And I] happened to notice some smoke out of the corner of my eye. I looked over and noticed that light was being refracted through a water bottle and started to catch the seat on fire.”
Amuchastegui also touches upon his initial reaction to the incident, saying, “I was a little bit surprised. I actually had to do a double take, [so] I checked it again. And, sure enough, [the seat] was super hot. I even stuck my hand under the light. [It] was hard to believe at first.”
A little earlier in the video, Amuchastegui had demonstrated what had happened in the truck, showing off the two burn marks to the interior. It was revealed, too, that Idaho Power had attempted to recreate the incident, with a camera ultimately capturing the results.
“We tested [the situation] again and registered the heat. I don’t remember exactly what it was,” Amuchastegui recalls. “With a non-contact thermometer, it was extremely hot. It was hot enough to start burning a hole through the seat. It’s not something you really expect – having a water bottle that [will] catch your chair on fire.”
As Amuchastegui is talking, the video cuts to a stationary shot of the bottle above the seat. Then, within a few moments, the reflected sunlight starts to burn the material, which produces some noticeable smoke. At this point, it’s revealed that the plastic is generating a temperature of 213 °F.
And the Idaho Power post certainly seemed to make people sit up and take notice. At the very least, the clip has gone viral, having earned close to two million views on Facebook since it was first added to the social media site in July 2017.
The video has also generated close to 2,000 likes and just under 7,000 shares, with more than 240 people commenting on the post to boot. And, unsurprisingly, there were many who hadn’t known about the potential dangers of water bottles in cars.
“Wow!” wrote one user in the comments section of the video. “That’s dangerous. Thank you for teaching me something new. I will be passing this information along to my family and associates.” Another person reiterated those feelings before going on to make an interesting point.
“Wow, think how many water bottles are floating around in people’s vehicles!” the Facebook user wrote. “That’s scary.” And yet another commenter chose to raise an important issue that hadn’t actually been addressed by Idaho Power’s video – but one that was still worth heeding.
That person revealed their belief that the human body may also be damaged by using containers that are left out in the heat. “Plastic bottles of water when sat in the sun should be thrown away,” the user wrote. “They release toxins. Ditch the plastic; [it’s] not good for anyone or the planet.”
And David Richardson from Oklahoma’s Midwest City Fire Department also took it upon himself to weigh in on the discussion. According to the administration major, a plastic bottle could absolutely start a blaze in that situation.
“Vinyl generally starts to burn at 455 degrees,” Richardson informed CBS News in August 2017. “It wouldn’t take very long to start a fire if conditions were right; [it just] depends on how focused that beam of light is.” There was something else he wanted to make clear to the public, too.
Richardson added, “The air temperature doesn’t matter. [The plastic bottle] works just like a magnifying glass – like one that you would use to burn leaves as a kid. It’s the same principle.” Ultimately, then, the Midwest City Fire Department produced its own video on the issue in order to further boost awareness.
That said, the fire department’s video differed slightly to that of Amuchastegui and his colleagues. In particular, Richardson chose not to burn a car seat, instead using a plain piece of paper for his demonstration – although the results were pretty much the same.
And after singeing a hole in the paper, Richardson makes some important points to the viewer. “A water bottle can start a fire,” he explains. “But while this paper did burn, I want you to keep a couple of things in mind. One: it’s about 450 degrees to burn this paper. Two: this was a clear bottle with a clear fluid in [it].”
That latter detail proves somewhat significant. “If this [bottle] was empty or partially filled, it probably wouldn’t have worked and magnified this,” Richardson adds. “So keep in mind that all the factors have to be in place to actually make this work.”
The Midwest City Fire Department subsequently uploaded the video onto its official Facebook page in August 2017. And this too generated a large response on social media, with the short clip going on to earn more than 100,000 views.
One individual also chose to back up Richardson’s findings in the comments section. “I truly believe it,” they wrote. “I learned a long time ago [that if] you put a drop of water on a piece of clear plastic, [it turns] it into a magnifying glass!”
Yet, as Richardson mentioned, keeping a plastic bottle in a hot car may not always prove dangerous. And the Midwest City Fire Department explained as much in a disclaimer to its Facebook post. “The likelihood of this happening in a vehicle and sustaining a fire is probably very small,” the message read. “We do not endorse or condone this activity. This was conducted in a controlled environment for demonstration purposes only!”
Regardless, concerns over the safety of such a practice hit the headlines again ahead of 2018’s World Cup in Russia. To celebrate soccer’s biggest competition that summer, a local business named Holy Water had started to stock commemorative bottles of water, with the special plastic containers shaped in the form of soccer balls.
However, in May 2018 a Russian YouTube user uploaded a clip to the video-sharing site that showcased the damage these bottles could do in the sun – from setting a box of matches alight to burning a hole in a laminate floor. Since then, the short clip has had more than 640,000 views.
But despite the apparent dangers of keeping plastic bottles in the sun, Richardson continued to assure the public that this shouldn’t be cause for panic. “It’s not a crisis,” he told CBS News. “We don’t know of this happening or becoming a contributing factor of car fires in our district, but the potential does exist.”