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Most cleaning wipes contain unwanted chemicals

Cleaning wipes can contain allergenic substances and suspected endocrine disrupters. Find a good choice in our test.

Christel S. Kirkeby · Foto: Getty Images · 30. august 2022
Cleaning wipes

You can use cleaning wipes for a quick removal of dirt and grease from surfaces in the bathroom, on windows, floors, and in your car.

In this test, we take a closer look at the ingredients in 36 different cleaning wipes for universal cleaning.

Unwanted chemicals found in the wipes

More than half of the cleaning wipes we have tested contain substances that can be problematic for your health and the environment.

20 out of 36 products receive the lowest rating, the C-rating, because they contain allergenic preservatives or suspected endocrine disrupters.

One product contains the substance hydrogenated tallowamine, which potentially can damage your organs.

All these chemicals are permitted in cleaning products.

Watch out for the preservative Methylisothiazolinone (MI)

One in three cleaning wipes in the test contain the allergenic preservative Methylisothiazolinone. According to the Danish National Allergy Research Center Methylisothiazolinone or MI has caused more than 1.000 new cases of allergy per year in Denmark since 2005.

Therefore, regulation on the use of this preservative has been significantly tightened. In cosmetics, for example, there is a limit on the amount allowed in shampoo.

But more significantly, in 2017 the substance was banned in cosmetics that are meant to stay on the skin (leave-on products). This includes, for example, skin cleaning wipes.

However, MI is still permitted in cleaning products.

A few cleaning wipes are free of unwanted chemicals

There are a few cleaning wipes without problematic chemicals for the environment and your health.

Only 5 out of 36 cleaning wipes are free of a wide range of problematic substances. They receive the A-rating in the test.

Products with the A-rating are free from unwanted chemicals, which means: without perfume, allergenic preservatives and suspected endocrine disrupters.

The good choices in the test all have the allergy labels The Blue Label or Allergy Certified.

Cleaning wipes damage the environment

You will not be able to find any environmentally friendly cleaning wipes with the Nordic Swan (ecolabel).

According to Ecolabelling Denmark, cleaning wipes are an unnecessary burden on the environment.

Nordic Ecolabelling has decided that it won’t be possible for cleaning wipes to get the Nordic Swan label for two reasons. First of all the biggest damage to the environment comes from the wipe itself. Second, it is currently not possible to recycle the wipes. From an environmental point of view, it is better to use traditional cleaning products, preferably ecolabelled, and to use cloths that can be washed and reused. Lisbeth Engel Hansen Head of Criteria, Ecolabelling Denmark

Challenging to get information on ingredients

The rules for declaration on the packaging are different from product to product.

All ingredients have to be declared on cosmetics and personal care products. However, these rules do not apply to cleaning products.

The full declaration of cleaning products only has to be available on a website that must be mentioned on the packaging. Unfortunately, this information is not always available.

In our previous test of cleaning wipes in 2020, there was a general problem with companies not complying with the rules to disclose all ingredients.

Fortunately, in this test, we see an improvement but it still requires persistence to find the ingredients online.

In 8 out of 36 tested products, we did not succeed in finding information on the ingredients online.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals wrote to the companies behind the products that had no available declaration online to ask for the full list of ingredients.

Are cleaning wipes necessary?

It is a good idea to consider whether you actually need cleaning wipes.

According to Ecolabelling Denmark, cleaning wipes damage the environment unnecessarily. Furthermore, cleaning wipes can contain suspected endocrine disrupters, allergenic substances and environmentally damaging chemicals.

Many cleaning wipes contain chlorine or antibacterial soap, which kill bacteria.

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you avoid chlorine and disinfecting substances as much as possible and that you use ecolabelled cleaning products and gloves.

However, it is important to remember that the chemicals in a single wipe is not necessarily problematic in itself. They contribute to your overall exposure to unwanted chemicals. This is known as the cocktail effect.

Washing your hands after using a cleaning wipe can help reduce your exposure to the chemicals. This is a good idea whether you use A-rated, B-rated or C-rated cleaning wipes.

What is the difference between wet wipes, cleansing wipes, and cleaning wipes?

Cleansing wipes and wet wipes are cosmetic products. While cleansing wipes are typically used to remove make-up, wet wipes are often used by parents to wipe their baby’s nose, fingers or bottom.

Wet wipes often contain perfume or allergenic preservatives. Therefore, we recommend using a cloth with water instead of wet wipes when changing diapers.

Cleaning wipes are not cosmetic products. This means that there are different rules that apply, for example that the producers do not have to fully declare them.

Furthermore, some chemicals allowed in cleaning wipes are not permitted  in cosmetics.

Cleaning wipes are cleaning products that should not be in direct contact with your skin.

About the test

  • The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has purchased cleaning wipes in different stores in Denmark. All the wipes are single-use and for universal cleaning of the bathroom, glass surfaces, cars, floors, etc.

    This test is a declaration test. This means, that our test team has examined the ingredient lists of the wipes. We have visited the websites listed on the products to find the correct and complete list of ingredients. The test does not take into consideration the concentration of the different ingredients.

    We have contacted the companies to make sure the list of ingredients is correct.

  • This is the result:

    • 5 cleaning wipes get the A-rating, which is the best rating, because they are free from a line of unwanted chemicals.
    • 11 cleaning wipes get a middle rating, the B-rating. Among other things, they contain perfume.
    • 20 cleaning wipes get the lowest rating, the C-rating. Most of them contain allergenic preservatives. A few contain suspected endocrine disrupters or other problematic substances.

    Allergenic preservatives:

    • Methylisothiazolinone, are found in 12 products.
    • Methylchloroisothiazolinone, are found in 3 products.
    • Benzisothiazolinone, are found in 9 products.
    • Octylisothiazolinone, are found in 2 products.
    • Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, are found in 5 products.
    • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, are found in 3 products.
    • Dmdm Hydantoin, is found in 1 product.

    Suspected endocrine disrupters

    Butylphenyl methylpropional is found in 2 products. The chemical is a perfume substance suspected of being endocrine disrupting. It can also cause allergies.

    Benzyl Salicylate is found in one product. Benzyl salicylate is a perfume substance suspected of being endocrine disrupting. It can also cause allergies.