Shopping cart handles? There’s a wipe for that. Door handles? There’s a wipe for that. What about the handrails in NASA’s International Space Shuttle? Yes, there’s even a wipe for that, too.

Disinfecting wet wipes have emerged as the must-have sanitary tool in healthcare facilities, schools, retail stores and gyms across the United States. Used to spot-clean commonly touched surfaces, jan/san distributors say there isn’t a more convenient or foolproof disinfecting product for commercial and institutional facilities than the popular nonwoven product.

Wet wipes come in a variety of sizes and are pre-moistened with disinfectant solution. Distributors cite their ease of use, elimination of chemical dilution and the prevention of cross-contamination as just a few reasons wipes have become popular. If distributors are not currently supplying wet wipes, practically every market presents opportunities for sales.


The convenience factor with wet wipes is that end users can carry a container of wipes anywhere in a facility, pull out a wipe, disinfect a surface and let it air dry. One setting that wipes are used most frequently is healthcare. Disposable wet wipes are helping to eliminate cross-contamination in healthcare facilities by offering superior cleaning and faster kill times of life-threatening illnesses.

Nurses and other clinical staff in hospitals, doctors’ offices and other medical facilities, are being asked to use hospital-grade wet wipes as a means of infection control to wipe down surfaces and equipment after patient examinations.

For example, when a nurse enters a patient’s room, lowers the bed rail and then puts the bed rail back up, protocol often will suggest that he or she use a wipe on the bed rail that was touched, so they don’t contaminate the hands or gloves of the next person.

With the possibility of spreading bacteria currently high, Glen Huizenga, sales manager with Nichols Inc., Spring Lake, Mich., says healthcare facilities have paid particular attention to wipes with kill claims against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Clostridium Difficile (C. Diff) — diseases that can spread.

It has also become a common and popular practice for healthcare facilities to use wipes on medical and surgical carts.

Retail and Grocery Stores

Walk into any grocery or retail store and there’s a good chance that located next to the shopping carts there will be stations for customers to grab a pre-moistened disposable wet wipe to clean the handle on their cart. Distributors say the retail customer segment is a big purchaser of wet wipes.

Why the push towards this being a common occurrence? Louie Davis, senior territory manager with Central Paper Co., in Birmingham, Ala., says its because there is more bacteria on a shopping cart handle than on a public restroom toilet seat. Unlike restrooms that get cleaned and disinfected regularly, Davis says the majority of shopping centers or grocery markets do not clean their carts.

With every new shopper touching the cart handles or toddlers being put into the seats, the typical shopping cart is being contaminated and accumulating a startling range of germs and viruses.

“You don’t think about a shopping cart handle being a dirty surface, but it’s awful,” says Davis. “There are thousands of people who put their hands on that handle.”

According to several studies done over the last couple of years, swabs taken from shopping cart handles and seats have come back with traces of blood, saliva, fecal matter, mucus, Listeria, Salmonella, Staph and E. Coli.

In 2011, researchers from the University of Arizona swabbed shopping cart handles in four states looking for bacterial contamination. Of the 85 carts examined, 72 percent turned out to have a marker for fecal bacteria. The researchers took a closer look at samples from 36 carts and discovered that E. coli was present — along with a host of other types of bacteria — on 50 percent of them.

The University of Arizona study, led by Dr. Charles Gerba, helps explain earlier research that found that children who sat in shopping carts were more likely to develop infections caused by salmonella and campylobacter.

With studies like these being broadcasted in the mainstream media, public awareness has increased. As a result, distributors say they’ve begun selling more disinfecting wet wipes and stations to retail stores. Teresa Farmer, green program specialist with Kelsan Inc., in Knoxville, Tenn., says the dispensers send a positive message to customers that the store cares about their well-being and is looking to enhance public health.

In order for retail stores to address bacteria concerns over the cleanliness of their shopping carts, however, stores must promote the use of wet wipes with signage as well as make sure that this dispensers are well stocked. Davis advises stores have the employee on cart duty check the wet wipe dispensers several times throughout his or her shift.

Education and Daycare

Educational facilities and daycare centers are also a prime market for wet wipe sales. Teachers are using wet wipes periodically throughout the day to wipe off student’s desks, tables, counter tops, etc. Instead of exposing young children to overspray from a concentrated disinfectant, all the teachers need to do is pull out a wipe, wipe down a surface and let it air dry.

“The whole spraying disinfectant into the environment is not preferred around children,” says Davis. “You don’t want to put chemical in the air. So using wipes is a real common sense approach in that market.”

With kids tending to coloring on desktops or walls, Davis says some teachers are able to do the cleaning themselves, instead of having the custodial staff tend to it.

“Wipes do a really good job cleaning,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll take crayon marks, pencil marks off, things like that.”

Antibacterial wet wipes used for hand cleaning are also a popular product used in educational facilities, according to distributors. They provide an easy way to clean children’s hands when access to water is limited. Alcohol-based wipes can also be issued to children to reduce the spread of viruses. Often, these are issued to children under supervision of teachers before they eat lunch or after restroom breaks.

Health Clubs

People go the gym to work out and get healthy. But gyms can be a breeding ground for illnesses ranging from colds and viruses to bacterial infections. As a result, distributors say this market has been steadily growing in demand for wet wipes.

Sweat and other bodily fluids often get left behind on shared workout equipment. If not properly cleaned, some of the more common Staph or MRSA infections often get spread. Distributors encourage gyms to promote proper etiquette of wiping down shared equipment with disinfectant wet wipes before and after use.

In order to promote their use, distributors say to sell health club customers pop-up stands where wipes can easily be accessed by people working out. So, when they go to switch machines, they can pull out a wipe from the container and wipe down the machine before or after use.

“Gyms are an ideal location for wet wipes, as most people feel better about using a piece of equipment if they can wipe it down before using,” says Farmer.

Other items wet wipes can be used on beyond workout equipment or machines are weights, yoga mats, fitness balls, benches and lockers.