Americans relish convenience. We genuinely appreciate pizzas delivered straight to our doors, direct flights, and shopping for Christmas gifts from a catalog — better yet, the Internet. Who doesn’t appreciate something that makes their day a little easier?

Professional cleaners are no exception. So when pre-moistened towelettes hit the market, users gobbled them up like a large pepperoni with extra cheese. Their convenience can’t be beat, not to mention it’s pretty darn hard to make a mistake using one.

In the past few years, manufacturers have developed wipe-type products to address many cleaning needs, and have been innovative in tackling new applications; industrial parts cleaners, graffiti wipes and carpet spotters are just a few products now rounding out many pre-moistened towelette product lines.

A No-Brainer
Manufacturers credit the training aspect — namely, not needing much — second only to convenience as the main reason this product category has caught on so well.

“From the end-user standpoint, what we’re seeing is a variety of customers that are interested in this technology,” says Steve Doyen, vice president of professional products for Amrep, Marietta, Ga. While industrial workers might look to the handiness of hand-cleaning towelettes, hotel staff might prefer glass cleaning and disinfectant wipes. Every market sector can benefit from these multi-use products, Doyen adds.

The convenience that wiping products afford also translates into labor savings when compared to traditional cloth-and-chemical alternatives.

“Once you start adding up the cost of the chemical, the dry towel and the extra labor needed to mix or dilute the chemical, wipes are much less expensive,” says Steve Hipp, president of Athea Laboratories, Milwaukee. Cleaning personnel aren’t the only ones to benefit, either. Certain towels add to the productivity of facility employees and occupants in addition to the cleaning staff.

“An example would be having a worker stay at his work station to clean his hands with a pre-moistened wipe rather than leaving his workstation, going to the bathroom to clean his hands, then stopping along the way to talk with friends,” Hipp explains. “This can add up to a very large cost, especially when you start adding up lost productivity.”

There are other advantages as well: storing the compact canisters is convenient; end users can tote a container full of pre-moistened towels around on their carts more easily; and from a dispensing standpoint, it’s easier to control and monitor usage. Towelettes also help curb water use.

“It’s a self-contained application,” says John Vlahakis, president of Venus Laboratories, Woodale, Ill. “The benefit is that you almost have a portioned dispensing system compared to a liquid or powder for the same application.”

Andy Bolin, wholesale distribution manager for ITW Dymon in Olathe, a Kansas City, Kan., suburb, says users appreciate that pre-moistened towels are user-ready.

“They’re pre-moistened, pre-measured with the right amount of chemical and easy to train people on,” he says. And because the chemical is already in the towel, there is no chance of chemical dripping and overspray. Pre-moistened towels also eliminate the presence of airborne chemicals — a benefit that coincides with growing awareness of indoor air quality.

Where Opportunity Lies

The manufacturers interviewed for this article all agree that towelettes offer strong growth potential.
Bill Bauernfeind, marketing manager for Clorox Professional Products, Oakland, Calif., says the product category is a rapid growth area for the company. Since introducing wipes to the away-from-home market in 2001, Clorox’s strong branding has helped it leverage sales of its disinfecting wipes, which are popular in a number of settings: food service, daycare and nursing homes, to name a few.

“Hotels are providing them to housekeeping staff to clean TV remote controls, light switches, door handles and telephones,” Bauernfeind adds. “They’ll put them on the tops of the carts so guests can see them.”

Manufacturers consider slow-growth markets to be some of the most likely candidates for potential sales.

For example, building service contractors have been slow to consider them. “BSCs are just starting to use them and try them,” Bolin notes.

Venus has seen resistance in the institutional market segment, primarily because many facilities tend to have invested heavily in proportioning equipment and designated dispensing areas.

“The cost savings for them isn’t there,” Vlahakis says.

“Hospitality or hotel service has probably been the slowest market to turn over to wipes,” says Hipp. “Every other market has been great: industrial, foodservice, automotive, even floor care with our carpet spot wipes.”

While most markets for the towelette product category are growing, some markets are really taking off.

The safety market has netted some substantial growth for manufacturers. As OSHA continues to put the heat on companies to provide adequate safety supplies to workers, products such as sunscreen wipes, insect repellents and hand sanitizers are gaining a customer following.

A pre-moistened towel designed to clean stainless steel is also a hot seller, according to Bolin. While cleaning stainless steel traditionally required a cleaner to spray the surface, and a cloth to buff it, the pre-moistened towels provide a one-step option.

“With this product, you pull out a towel, you apply it and you’re done,” he says. “You don’t have to spray and buff it out.” Foodservice is a likely candidate, as well as facilities that have stainless steel elevators, escalators and railings.
Manufacturers have also seen a spurt in hand-sanitizing and disinfecting wipe sales due to an increasing focus on infection control.

Improving On A Good Thing
Manufacturers are constantly searching for ways to improve their offerings. Some are tweaking the design of the dispensing mechanism on canisters (wipes are also commonly packaged in single-use packets or resealable foil packages), while others are upgrading the towel to be stronger, softer and more effective.

But is there a downside of towelettes? Not really, according to manufacturers. Generally, problems, such as the towels drying out, can be avoided by making sure the cap is securely closed, and storing them where they’re not in the sun.

Then there’s the price objection, but convenience always comes at a cost — a perceived cost, manufacturers say. Manufacturers contend the labor savings is worth the additional upfront dollars.

Spicy Mix
Popularity in the consumer arena has fueled demand for these products in institutional settings, and manufacturers will continue to explore new areas. Bauernfeind predicts increased specialization in the wipe market.

“You’re going to start to see, in probably five years, a lot more specialization in terms of market segments,” he says. For instance, dedicated food service wipes or hospital wipes.

“If you look at liquids and aerosols, [towelettes are] another form of packaging that’s going to have some long-lasting stability,” says Amrep’s Doyen. “We think it’s going to be a growing segment.”

The Many Uses

Manufacturers offer pre-moistened towelettes designed for dozens of applications. Here are some common — and not so common — types of wipes:

  • Sunscreen wipes
  • Insect repellent wipes
  • Furniture polishers
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Hand cleaners
  • Glass cleaner
  • General-purpose cleaners
  • Carpet spot cleaner
  • Industrial applications
  • Graffiti wipes
  • Metal polishing
  • Disinfecting