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What are Hand Wipes?

Michael Pollick
Updated Feb 21, 2024
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In many hospitals and doctors' offices, the frequent use of special paper towels saturated in a mild cleansing or antibacterial solution is strongly encouraged. These paper towels are known as hand wipes, and are especially popular whenever working around contagious or infected patients. The hand wipes should kill enough bacteria and remove enough contaminants to prevent transfers between patients and visitors. Hand wipes can also be used to clean a person's hands after handling dirty or unsterilized medical equipment as well.

The use of hand wipes does not entirely replace the need for proper hand washing and decontamination, however. Visitors to a patient's room can use disposable wipes before touching the patient or handling his or her food. After the visit is over, visitors should once again used hand wipes to prevent the spreading of any harmful bacteria or viruses. Medical professionals will also use hand wipes after handling food trays or any waste materials.

Hand wipes are also popular outside of the medical community. Many parents carry waterless wipes in order to cleanse the hands of very young children, especially if a proper washroom is not immediately available. Waterless hand wipes contain a mild detergent solution, chemical fragrance and a fluid with a fast evaporation rate, such as rubbing alcohol or a product containing glycol. Once the package is opened, the solution on the hand wipes immediately begins to evaporate, which means no rinsing is required.

Because these hand wipes can dry out quickly when exposed to air, they are generally packaged in plastic dispensers with airtight lids or in single-use packs lined with a metallic foil. Some hand wipes are designed to allow one sheet to be dispensed as another sheet is drawn up to take its place, much like pop-up facial tissue dispensers.

Diners who order certain greasy or fried entrees such as fried chicken or barbecued ribs may also find individual hand wipes on their plates. These so-called "wet naps" allows diners to remove sticky or greasy residue from their fingers immediately after eating, making a formal trip to the washroom unnecessary. These hand wipes also employ a waterless detergent solution, which leaves a pleasant fragrance on the user's hands as it evaporates.

Certain grocery stores and other retail outlets may also present their customers with disposable hand wipes as they enter the building. These wipes can be used to sanitize the handle and child's seat of a grocery cart, or to clean off any potential contaminants picked up during shopping. Hand wipes can also be found in many classrooms, where communicable diseases and other biological hazards are common. Students and faculty members alike are encouraged to use antibacterial hand wipes after playing with communal toys or visiting the restroom.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Ruggercat68 — On Oct 22, 2014

I'm practically addicted to antibacterial and disinfectant hand wipes. As soon as I'm in the door of a grocery store, I'm reaching for those disposable hand wipes by the grocery carts. I've seen too many customers sneezing and wheezing while they shop, and I'm not about to touch those carts without wiping them down first.

The same is true whenever I go to church or a doctor's office or a school. I have been known to carry a bottle of hand sanitzer or a travel pack of hand sanitizing wipes in my pocket if there isn't anything available at the location.

Some people tease me about being OCD when it comes to public germs, but I have always been this way. My brother got a really bad staph infection from something he touched at a daycare center, and from then on everyone in my family became obsessed with wiping things down.

By Cageybird — On Oct 22, 2014

About the only time I use disposable hand wipes is after a messy meal, like barbecued ribs with sauce. I'll eventually make it to the restroom for a proper wash, but at least the wipes will help remove most of the offensive grease and sauce. Otherwise, I rarely use the anti-bacterial hand wipes at the grocery store or the doctor's office.

I probably should get in the habit of using disinfectant wipes more often, but I don't feel like I'm coming into that much contact with hazardous germs or viruses during my average day.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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