Disposable cleaning wipes have become a staple of modern life. In 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, disposable disinfectant wipes were among the most sought after — and most hoarded — commodities as we raced to protect ourselves, our families, and our homes from viral contamination.
However, the convenience of disposable wipes comes with a significant environmental cost. Billions of disposable wipes make it to our landfills and oceans every year, many of which contain plastics that do not break down and harsh disinfecting chemicals that can leech into waterways. Flushed disposable wipes are often the culprit behind massive clogs that can impact the functioning of sewers.
In recent years, an alternative has come on the scene — compostable cleaning wipes made from natural materials and constructed to break down in municipal compost. These wipes are touted as an eco-friendly alternative to the plastic canister or packet that many of us have sitting on our kitchen counters for quick clean-up jobs. However, the question remains: are compostable cleaning wipes worth the buy?
What Are Compostable Wipes?
Compostable wipes are designed to look and feel like other disposable cleaning wipes, and are cloth-like and pre-soaked with a cleaning solution. Like other wipes, they are sold in watertight plastic containers designed to dispense a single wipe at a time.
However, unlike traditional wipes, these are fashioned from a compostable, plant-based cloth that is designed to break down and degrade completely in normal conditions. Compostable wipes are designed to meet the requirements for compostable products set by the American Society for Testing and Materials, or ASTM. To meet these standards, the product must be designed to be composted under aerobic conditions in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.
Compostable Wipes Don’t Disinfect
One of the most common questions asked about compostable wipes is: do they do the job of disinfecting wipes when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting surfaces? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Unlike disinfectant wipes, which are pre-soaked with a solution including the antibacterial agent Alkyl C12-18 Dimethylbenzyl Ammonium Chloride, compostable wipes do not kill bacteria or viruses on surfaces.
Although they are not antibacterial or antiviral, compostable wipes are well-suited for many home cleaning jobs, including cleaning up after spills and messes, and wiping down tables, countertops, or sinks. However, to disinfect surfaces to a food-safe standard, you’ll need to consider a second product.
Compatibility With Home Compost Systems
Although some compostable wipes advertise that they are compostable either at home or in a municipal composting facility, their at-home composting potential is limited. Clorox, for example, includes the caveats that wipes should not be composted at home if they have been used to clean non-compostable messes, and that wipes should never comprise more than 10 percent of a home compost pile.
As a result, these wipes are, by and large, intended to be composted in municipal or industrial composting facilities. Not all cities and towns are equipped with these facilities, but if yours is, you can throw used wipes in with your green or compostable waste. Before adding these wipes to your home compost pile, make sure you’ve thoroughly reviewed all manufacturer recommendations and caveats.
Eco-Friendly Alternatives To Compostable Wipes
There’s no doubt that disposable wipes are a convenient way to manage home messes. But if you’re concerned about their environmental impact, there are a number of alternatives. As we’ve noted before on this blog, Dawn concentrated dish soap is a great tool to cut through grease and grime, making cleanup of difficult messes easier than even the most convenient wipe. Vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda can also replace pre-moistened wipes for almost all household cleaning jobs. In places where disinfecting is a priority, hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol can disinfect surfaces without the environmental impact of bleach or other chemicals.
There are also a number of convenient, reusable cleaning tools that can take the place of paper towels or disposable wipes. Microfiber cloths, longer-lasting bamboo “paper towels,” or natural sponges are all great alternatives that require minimal additional effort.
The Verdict: Are Compostable Wipes Worth It?
Compostable wipes are certainly a more eco-friendly option than traditional disinfectant wipes, and they can perform a number of quick cleanup tasks while minimizing the ecological disruption caused by billions of wipes crowding into landfills. However, they do have their drawbacks — they cannot disinfect surfaces, and your home composting options are limited.
Sweeping Dimensions: A Cleaning With a Conscience
Ready to chat more about a cleaner, more eco-friendly home? Here at Sweeping Dimensions, we focus on handling all sorts of cleaning and housekeeping projects, so you can focus on the other things that matter to you.
A big part of that is making sure our clients’ wants and needs are met at all times. That’s why we make a point of always having sustainable and environmentally friendly cleaning solutions on hand and ready to use.
We also believe in passing along our green cleaning knowledge, whenever we can. We love to talk all things cleaning and organizing, including the strategies that can make taking care of your home a more sustainable practice. The more people we can bring together in our mission for a greener world, the better off our oceans, lakes, and rivers will be.
So, if you ever have a question about comparing cleaning products, or making a green switch in your home, don’t hesitate to get in touch – I am always happy to talk shop! At SDCS, we are sincerely passionate about these issues, dedicated to finding real solutions, and always eager to keep the conversation going.
Want to set up a green cleaning for your Chicago home? Don’t hesitate to reach out for your free estimate!
Looking to exchange ideas on reusable plastic alternatives, or share how you’re going to focus on sustainability this year? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch via email or on social media to let us know your thoughts.