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Wet wipes – a costly convenience?


Wet wipes have always been a staple in my kit, there is no denying their usefulness. They get used for so many things – cleaning me, the kit, brushes. They also get swiped by stylists to clean shoes, photographers to clean sets, the list is endless.

Now at home I’m going through a ridiculous amount – actually using baby wipes for their specific purpose – a baby. Especially now that baby is eating solid food, the mess she makes is unbelievable. However it is not just her that gets the once (or twice, three times…) over, wipes come in handy for so many things – a quick bit of dusting or cleaning blinds… The convenience is indisputable.

That convenience has led to wipes being available for anything it seems – deodorant, tanning, and nail varnish remover to name a few.

Most skincare brands offer their version of a facial wipe and many women use them as a substitute for a proper cleanse. So many I’ve spoken to have said that that is all they use at night to remove make-up and clean their skin. Once every so often perhaps is OK, after a late night a wipe is better than not taking your make-up off at all, but every night? Not good.

Look at the back of the majority of wipes and you will see a whole list of suspect nasties. Preservatives, anti-bacterials, alcohol and many other unpronounceable chemicals. Removing your make-up they may be, but they could also be causing things like skin irritation, sensitisation, and dermatitis. A large percentage of those irritating ingredients are actually just to stop germs breeding inside the packet, nothing at all to do with the wipes’ designed purpose.

The Ecologist featured Wet Ones Ultra Soft wipes in their ‘Behind the Label’ column a good few years back and quoted “Figures from North America suggest that if you were to load all the disposable wipes purchased there last year on to 18-wheel lorries, the convoy would number 9,000 trucks, stretch for 68 miles, and would be carrying 83,000 tonnes of used convenience cloths.” That is a lot of wipes – how many trucks would be filled now??

Judging by the results of the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach cleanup results that were released last month, it’s a problem that is only getting bigger. The number of wet wipes washing up on UK beaches doubled between 2013 and 2014. Thirty five cloths were found for every km of beach. This is because people are flushing them down the toilet. Once flushed they cause havoc with the sewer system and then onto cause havoc to marine life. This is largely due to the plastic fibres – yes plastic – making them hard to break down so cause blockages in the pipes, and blockages in the stomaches of marine life that unfortunately eat them.


Image from The Guardian by Gareth Fuller.

So not so good for us and certainly not good for the environment. Even if they’re not being flushed, they’re ending up in a landfill somewhere. So what can we do?? Well apart from the obvious of not using them which is easier said then done – I hold my hands up here too. Limit our use – remove make-up with proper cleansers, do the cleaning with a proper cloth, clean sticky fingers and faces with a damp muslin cloth – note to self…

When you do use wipes, choose brands that use skin friendly ingredients and biodegradable, compostable cloths. I always try to use ‘greener’ wipes, they can be a little more expensive but in the long run are better for all – and if you’re using less….. My current favourite for baby and for kit is Jackson Reece Kinder By Nature, they seem to be on a long term special offer in Sainsbury’s at the moment – 2 for £2.50. I recently tried Natracare’s make-up removal wipes which are Soil Association certified. They are made from organic cotton and biodegradable so tick that box. They were nice and moist and removed my make-up but they did sting a tiny bit – I am a bit sensitive at the moment though – nothing can beat cleansing your face with a proper cleanser!! I’d happily put these wipes in my kit.

  1. Brilliant post. I know I take great care to reduce my plastic waste, but hadn’t even considered these. I didn’t even realize they were made of plastic! Thanks for writing this. Education is key to making responsible choices.

    1. Thank you, I’m so glad you liked the post and found it useful. I know, I was surprised about the plastic – it gets everywhere it seems!!

  2. Brilliant post. I didn’t even realise they were made of plastic, and I thought I was generally pretty environmentally conscious! Thanks for bringing this to my attention. It’s really helpful.

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