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Baby Wipes Vs. Wet Wipes (Differences and Issues)


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Baby wipes, toddler wipes, dry wipes, wet wipes, flushable wipes, and the list goes on! When it comes to buying wipes for your baby, it’s easy for parents to feel overwhelmed with the many choices in the store. Having always had a bottle of wet wipes in the car growing up, I remember being confused about the differences between baby wipes vs. wet wipes when my girls were born. These days, I’m much more aware of ingredient lists so I decided to dig further into what really separates these two wipes.

Baby wipes are often formulated without harsh chemicals and are meant to be as gentle for a baby’s skin as possible. Wet wipes, on the other hand, are often meant to clean up adults or general messes and often include cleansers, antibacterials, and other chemicals that might irritate sensitive baby skin.

While it might make sense to have lots of different wipes at your disposal, it’s important to remember that each kind of wipe serves its own purpose and it’s not always cleaning up your baby!

While similar, wet wipes are meant to serve a different purpose than baby wipes

In a fundamental way, wet wipes are just meant to serve a different purpose than baby wipes. Typically, these products are aimed at adults and they are billed as toilet paper replacements, hand and face wipes, or general mess cleaners. Just think about anytime before you had a baby in the house (and no baby wipes) and reached for a wet or soapy paper towel and you’ll have a good grasp of what wet wipes were created to handle.

With that being said, comparing baby wipes vs. wet wipes is pretty tricky on the surface because they normally look almost exactly the same. Sure, the packaging will be different and you might find them in different areas of the store, but once you take the wipe out to use it, you probably won’t see much difference between the two. They are both made of a cloth-like material, they are both wet, and they both clean things up when you move them back and forth over a mess.

The big differences, like with most things, are below the surface.

Wet wipes often contain more chemical cleansers and antibacterials

Because they are meant to clean up general messes and kill germs or bacteria at the same time, wet wipes usually have a lot of chemical ingredients that make them resemble a cleaning spray rather than a baby wipe. If you are cleaning up the sink in the kitchen, having a potent degreaser, cleanser, or antibacterial agent in your wipe isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For someone trying to use ‘one wipe to rule them all,’ however, you are going to run into big problems using this same wipe on your baby’s bum when it comes time to change her diaper. Let’s take a look at some of the chemical ingredients I found when browsing through some popular wet wipe brands:

  • Benzethonium Chloride – This is a quaternary ammonium salt used as an antibacterial in many cleaning products. These types of chemicals have been found to significantly impair the reproductive ability of mice in testing, although human tests haven’t been conducted. They can also be very irritating with repeated exposure to skin whether it be a baby or adult.
  • Quaternium-52 – Another quaternary salt similar to the first one.
  • Phenoxyethanol –  A common chemical in many personal beauty products and wipes that has been shown to be an irritant and has also been linked to nervous system damage in infants.
  • Methyl, ethyl, and propyl parabens – Parabens have been all over the news in recent years due to their tendency to mimic estrogen in the human body which can cause a host of problems. In studies with baby animals exposed to high levels of parabens, there was a clear correlation with memory, learning, and social interaction problems.
  • Alcohol – While not necessarily toxic, alcohol can be extremely drying to the skin and can definitely cause irritation when used repeatedly.

Baby wipes have milder, gentler ingredients to avoid irritation

Baby wipes, especially natural wipes that avoid the most common dangerous chemicals, are typically formulated with fewer ingredients that are going to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin. For these wipes, the emphasis is on providing durable and wet cloth that can wipe a mess away without relying on anything besides water and maybe a few moisturizers. At the end of the day, you just don’t really need more than this to clean up a baby, even during a diaper change.

By avoiding the harsher cleansers and antibacterials typically found in wet wipes, baby wipes are going to cause fewer diaper rashes, breakouts, and other irritation. Many people might think that something like diaper rash is unavoidable, and I used to be one of them, but our strategy with my now one-year-old son has proven this theory wrong.

In fact, baby wipes are very rarely antibacterial and almost never contain alcohol. If you want to learn more about that click on the links to read my resources on the subjects!

Our solution is simple:

  • Change diapers quickly when they are wet or dirty as this is the biggest cause of irritation and rash.
  • Use natural baby wipes that include only safe and mild ingredients for baby’s skin. This way his bottom doesn’t get dried out or irritated – precursors to diaper rash.
  • Daily baths with a safe, mild soap to make sure that we are removing any traces of pee or poop that might remain after a wipe down.
  • We dry our son off well before putting a fresh diaper on so we don’t encourage bacterial growth in moist cracks and crevices.

With this routine, we’ve literally had ZERO issues with diaper rash with our son. Of course, every child’s skin is different, but we had constant issues with our little girls years ago when we were using store brand wipes. At that time, we didn’t even glance at the ingredients label and it caused us to constantly worry with diaper creams, powders, and other things that we shouldn’t have needed or been using in the first place!

There are wet wipes that could be mild enough for babies

While it might seem like I’m beating up wet wipes pretty hard, I’m not saying that every wet wipe brand or product or product out there is bad news – far from it! My goal is to point out that if you are using a wipe to clean up your baby’s skin, you want to use one meant for that purpose. Generally speaking, generic wet wipes are NOT going to be the first choice. When comparing baby wipes vs. wet wipes, baby wipes will win every time when it comes to your baby’s skin!

With that being said, there are quite a few options on the market that I discovered while researching this post that actually have pretty decent ingredient lists. The best ones are advertised as gentle or sensitive and they avoid almost all of the worst chemical offenders.

These would make a great option for keeping around the car or house to deal with spills and other messes along with the occasional baby face wipe down in a pinch.

Here are two wet wipes that aren’t aimed at babies that feature the best ingredients:

  1. Simpleaf flushable wipes – Biodegradable, paraben-free, hypoallergenic, and super convenient. These wipes come in multiple small travel packs that you can easily throw in a purse, diaper bag, or car. The worst ingredient on the list is phenoxyethanol which scores a 3 on EWG and is one of the milder offenders that you’ll find in personal care products.
  2. Cottonelle or Kleenex Gentle Clean/Sensitive – Since they are owned by the same company, these wipes are basically interchangeable both in quality and ingredients. Check the individual product list, but the sensitive versions should only include Butoxy PEG-4 and Sodium Benzoate as their ingredients with an EWG score of 3 or higher. Since they are from a major supplier, this will likely be the cheapest option if you want to stay as natural and gentle as possible on the skin!

Even though most wet wipes are listed as flushable, you probably shouldn’t

While we are on the topic of wet wipes vs. baby wipes, I want to take a moment to point out that just because a wipe is listed as flushable doesn’t mean you should listen.

There have been countless stories recently about sewers being blocked and water treatment facilities getting clogged with these so-called ‘flushable’ wipes. Not to mention the fact that many beaches are being covered by wipes that make it all the way through the system and find themselves in rivers and oceans.

I get it, it’s just easier to flush something down the toilet and be done with it, but it’s not that much harder to throw something into the garbage. If the wipe is biodegradable, it will eventually break down in a landfill without clogging up our sewage system. That’s why I always try to use high-quality biodegradable baby wipes if I can help it! If it grosses you out to throw a soiled wipe into the trash then just be sure you are using a trash can with a lid that seals to prevent odor.

If you are really worried, then you can grab something like a Diaper Genie that will keep everything out of sight, out of mind!

Joshua Bartlett
Joshua Bartlett

My name is Joshua Bartlett I run this blog with my wife Jarah. We have more than 11 years of parenting experience including three girls and one boy. I started this blog in late 2018 when I realized that I was dealing with baby-related issues on a constant basis…please read more about me here!