Baby wipes are an essential element in taking care of a baby daily. Wet wipes are used for everything from cleaning up after a diaper change to wiping away spit-up or food spills.
Given the frequency with which wet wipes are used, it’s imperative to make sure that their composition is free from hazardous chemicals and gentle on the sensitive skin of babies.
Not all baby wipes are made with safe qualitative ingredients. Some chemicals found in baby wipes such as phenoxyethanol, sodium lauryl sulfate, or parabens have been linked to dangerous toxic reactions in the human organ system.
Being aware of the safety and tolerability of common ingredients found in baby wipes will help prevent common skin disorders in babies. For example diaper dermatitis, skin irritation, discomfort, and more are very common at the age of 9-12 months old.
In addition, 95% of baby wipes are made of plastic fibers (polyester) that degrade into microplastics and pollute the environment. Yet, “truly” biodegradable baby wipes made from sustainable natural ingredients exist and prevent a solid alternative to un-eco-friendly baby wipes.
In this article, we take a closer look at baby wipes ingredients and help you identify the risks as well as the sustainable alternatives for non-toxic and eco-friendly baby wipes.
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Table of Contents
Baby Wipes and Sustainability
Single-use wipes are mainly made of plastic and turn into waste after a single use. These products require special attention because of their important contribution to the household waste stream and their environmental impacts.
What are baby wipes made of?
According to ZeroWaste, disposable wipes are made from non-woven textiles and are infused with cleaning lotions.
The textile is composed of 60% polyester or rayon (petrochemical material) and 40% cellulose. It is better to choose 100% cellulose wipes (if possible FSC certified) as polyester emits four times more CO2 than cellulose. Cellulose comes from plants, while polyester comes from oil.
Wipes are generally mainly water-based and alcohol-free. Water is the main component and serves as a base and diluent for other ingredients.
But wipes can also contain mild detergents mixed with moisturizers, fragrances, biocides, and preservatives.
Are baby wipes bad for the environment?
ZeroWaste estimates that in 2017, the European Union used approximately 68 billion individual disposable wipes or 511,000 tonnes of waste per year.
Baby wipes are made from several materials and contain various organic matters such as pee and poop (after being used). That makes baby wipes very difficult and expensive to recycle.
That’s why these products end up in landfills (87%) or are incinerated (13%). This process wastes resources and negatively impacts the environment.
In addition, single-use wipes are often thrown into the toilet after use. They can therefore enter marine environments via sewage disposal infrastructure.
Single-use wipes are very commonly found in marine environments (6.2% of beach waste found in the United Kingdom). While degrading, baby wipes release a considerable number of microplastics into the water and create marine litter.
Use of energy, water, and materials
The creation process of the wipe from paper, cotton, viscose, rayon and glues, perfumes, and dyes consumes large quantities of water and energy. And because disposable wipes are only used one time, large volumes of materials are necessary to supply the demand.
Are any baby wipes biodegradable? How to be sure?
95% of baby wipes are made from polyester (plastic) and therefore not biodegradable.
Biodegradability is the natural process of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.
To be biodegradable, a wipe should not contain any nylon, plastic fibers, or harsh chemicals.
Some wet wipes are made 100% from cellulose (plants). Those wipes are therefore biodegradable. Always refer to the label to check if the baby wipes you are purchasing are biodegradable.
How long does it take for wipes to decompose?
“Not biodegradable” wipes will deteriorate and fall into pieces after at least 90 days in the compost bin, according to Jean Chanas, general manager of Sanytol.
However, those wipes will break into tiny pieces called microplastic and those never go away.
Are baby wipes recyclable?
No, wipes are not recyclable. Wipes are made from several materials and usually contain organic matter (pee or poop). That makes wipes very difficult and expensive to recycle.
Baby wipes must be thrown into the trash bin for proper disposal. They will eventually end up in landfill and degrade into microplastics or will be incinerated.
Where do I throw used baby wipes? How do I dispose of biodegradable wipes?
Baby wipes must be thrown into the trash bin for proper disposal. They eventually end up in landfill or incinerated.
Biodegradable doesn’t mean flushable. Biodegradable wipes need to be disposed of in the compost bin.
Can I flush baby wipes? Can I flush biodegradable baby wipes?
Single-use wipes are made from both plastic and cellulose. That’s why they don’t fully decompose in water. Many wipes packages on the market indicate that they are “flushable” or “biodegradable”, yet these products fail to decompose when tested according to this study.
Flushed wipes don’t break into pieces when flushed and can create massive clogging issues in the plumbing system warns this article.
Besides, baby wipes release a large volume of microplastics (small particles of plastic waste less than 5 mm in diameter) which can migrate to the marine environment via the sewage.
Single-use plastic products do not decompose easily in marine environments and generally contain chemical additives potentially toxic, such as phthalates and parabens, which can be released in water or directly ingested and introduced into the marine food chain.
Remember to never flush a baby wipe. Even for biodegradable baby wipes, biodegradable doesn’t mean flushable.
When in doubt, you can check if your product is certified by the IWSFG flushability certification or the Fine to Flush certification for the UK. Very few baby wipes are labeled by any of these certifications.
Are bamboo wipes better for the environment? Do bamboo wipes biodegradable?
It depends on their composition. Are they made entirely of bamboo fibers or also of polyester?
If a wet wipe contains some types of plastic (polyester, rayon, or viscose), it’s similar to regular wet wipes. It’s neither biodegradable nor flushable.
If a wipe is made entirely of plant-based materials such as bamboo, it’s in this case likely to be biodegradable. Always refer to the label to check if the baby wipes you are purchasing are biodegradable.
What are the most environmentally friendly baby wipes?
The most environmentally friendly baby wipes are made from plant-based materials such as bamboo, cotton, and other natural fibers. In addition, plant-based baby wipes are often fragrance and chemical free.
Are Huggies baby wipes biodegradable?
As stated on their website, none of Huggies’ wet wipes are biodegradable or flushable.
Are Pampers Pure wipes biodegradable?
Pampers baby wipes are made from polypropylene and regenerated cellulose and are therefore not biodegradable or flushable.
Are Johnson baby wipes biodegradable?
These baby wipes were discontinued and were not biodegradable.
Baby Wipes and Hazardous Chemicals
This recent American study found that skin exposure to baby wipes is a factor behind the increasing levels of children with food allergies.
Is there anything toxic in baby wipes? Do baby wipes have harmful chemicals?
You are right to wonder if wipes are safe for newborns and babies.
Wipes are generally mostly water-based and alcohol-free. They protect against microbial contamination with preservatives. That’s where the problem lies as some brands use toxic and hazardous chemicals to achieve this result.
Most baby wipes are safe to use but some wet wipes contain harmful chemicals that should be avoided for baby care.
What chemicals to ban in baby wipes?
It’s a preservative used in many personal care products. It has an antimicrobial effect and it prevents bacterial development. Scientists link phenoxyethanol with toxicity to the liver, reproductive perturbations, and disorders in the nervous and hematopoietic systems.
In France, baby wipes containing phenoxyethanol must be labeled ”not recommended for babies under three years of age”. There is no ban on this product, but a “precautionary” warning.
They are very common synthetic preservatives and controversial substances. Some parabens are endocrine disruptors, likely to cause allergies.
Since 2003, parabens have been highly controversial, after a British study revealed a relationship between parabens and breast cancer. Parabens to avoid the most are butylparaben and isobutylparaben.
They are chemical molecules that act as fixators or vectors in cosmetic products. Phthalates are considered toxic to reproduction (DEHP and DBP are the most dangerous). Phthalates are prohibited in children’s toys and feeding bottles.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS
Mostly used as a surfactant (which allows the substances in the formulation to blending correctly), SLS is a well-known irritant.
Scientists have known about it for decades, their publications designated it as “the standard irritant”. The substance is also frequently used to induce “experimental contact dermatitis”.
BHA and BHT
They are powerful antioxidants found in body & face lotions, moisturizers, and hair care. They are classified as potentially carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, with reproductive toxicity, and an endocrine disruptor.
It’s an allergen mainly found in perfumes. It’s likely to cause an allergic reaction and is commonly found in all types of products, including “dermatologically tested” or “hypoallergenic” products.
How to pick non-toxic baby wipes?
1. Ban the ingredients mentioned in the list above in the composition of the baby wipes you purchase.
2. Trust a non-toxic label
Toxins out, healthy ingredients in – that’s the core value of MADE SAFE. The MADE SAFE certification is about giving consumers peace of mind that the products they purchase are safe for human health and the environment. The certification process involves an independent assessment of a product’s ingredients to make sure they are not harmful to humans or animals.
The Made Safe List banned over 6500 hazardous substances and can be found here.
The Environmental Working Group
The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit organization created in 1993 that strives to protect human health and the environment.
Products that meet the EWG’s criteria are awarded a certification seal, which provides assurance to consumers that the product is safe to use.
The certification process includes an extensive review of the product’s ingredients, manufacturing processes, and potential health risks.
Certified products are also listed on the EWG’s website so that consumers can easily find them when they’re shopping.
3. Check the EWG list to find the safest baby wipes
The Environmental Working Group lists the baby wipes they have checked and labeled safe to use. You can find the full list here.
Are those baby wipes brands safe to use?
Are you wondering if your Huggies baby wipes are non-toxic? Or if these Pampers sensitive wipes contain chemicals? Let us help you.
EWG process reviews each ingredient and its potential toxicity. The safest products score a low hazard rating: 1 being the safest rate.
Huggies Special Delivery wipes are rated 1/10 with a low hazard. Rated the safest
Huggies Natural Care Baby Wipes are rated 2/10 with a low hazard.
Huggies Nourish & Care Wipes, Cocoa & Shea Butter are rated 4/10 with moderate hazard.
Huggies Simply Clean Baby Wipes, Fresh Scent are rated 4/10 with moderate hazard.
Pampers Wipes Complete Clean, Unscented are rated 1/10 with a low hazard. Rated the safest
Pampers Sensitive Wipes Fragrance Free are rated 1/10 with a low hazard. Rated the safest
Pampers, Wipes, Baby Fresh are rated 3/10 with moderate hazard.
Dove Baby Wipes, Rich Moisture are rated 5/10 with moderate hazard
Baby Dove Sensitive Skin Wipes are rated 1/10 with a low hazard. Rated the safest
Rite Aid Tugaboos Baby Wipes are rated 3/10 with moderate hazard.
WaterWipes Baby Wipes are rated 1/10 with a low hazard. Rated the safest
The Honest Company Honest Wipes are rated 2/10 with a low hazard.
Seventh Generation Free & Clear Baby Wipes are rated 2/10 with a low hazard.
Eco-friendly Alternatives to Single-Use Baby Wipes
What can I use instead of baby wipes? Here are some sustainable and chemical-free options.
A wet washcloth
Sometimes you just have to make it simple. Rather than complicate your life with wet wipes, you can use a wet washcloth that works just as well. By adding a little bit of soap adapted for babies, you can clean your baby effectively. A simple and efficient solution to avoid unnecessary waste or unwanted hazardous substances.
Washable and reusable baby wipes
Many parents have adopted washable wipes. Unlike disposable ones, reusable baby wipes are much more environmentally friendly. You can wash them after use, just like you would do with washable diapers. Washable wipes are available in different materials: bamboo, sponge, microfiber, or cotton. To wash your baby’s butt effectively, you just need to add some cleaning lotions (that you can also craft yourself) and that’s it!
Make your own baby wipes
DIY products have never been trendier so why not extend it to the crafting of baby wipes? To do so, you just need pieces of fabric, ideally bamboo fibers that respect the fragile skin of babies. You can then add some water or lotion to them.
Use your sink
This solution may not be the most practical and therefore cannot fit all situations, but it’s manageable if you are at home. You can clean your baby’s butt with water directly in the sink while using a gentle soap. A technique that can sometimes come in handy.
Best Biodegradable Baby Wipes with Non-Toxic Ingredients
We have found the best biodegradable baby wipes free from chemicals that are both eco-friendly and certified non-toxic. The baby wipes are made from natural fibers like bamboo and cotton, and they are free from harsh chemicals. In addition, they are certified non-toxic by third-party organizations, so you can be sure that they are safe for your baby’s delicate skin.
If you are looking for an eco-friendly and safe alternative to traditional baby wipes, these biodegradable baby wipes are the way to go.
Product: Organic Baby Wipes
Sustainable & Non-toxic: Made Safe certified, EWG verified, certified organic cotton, vegan, free from SLS, parabens, GMO and Methylisothiazolinone, biodegradable
Price: $5.99 for 50 wipes
Product: Tree-Free Baby Wipes
Sustainable & Non-toxic: Made Safe certified, FSC certified, Non-GMO verified, natural materials sustainably sourced, hypoallergenic, alcohol-free, unscented, phthalate-free, chlorine-free, parabens-free
Price: $29.99 for 432 wipes
Product: Our Wet Wipes
Sustainable & Non-toxic: Made Safe certified, EWG verified, B Corp certified, hypoallergenic, biodegradable, plant-based ingredients, made in California, sustainability sourced & FSC certified.
Price: $28 for 256 wipes
Image Credit: All photos belong to Pexels, Unsplash and to respective brands.