disinfecting wipes

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Think Twice Before You Wipe

If you’re lucky enough to find disinfecting wipes these days, you may want to use them on almost everything. But don’t do it — and not just because you won’t want to burn through your precious stash so quickly. On certain surfaces, disinfecting wipes can do a lot more harm than good. Save them for the hard, nonporous surfaces not on this list, manufacturers recommend.

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Leather Purses or Upholstery

No matter your lifestyle, a well-loved handbag can get filthy. So can your leather car seats or furniture. While disinfecting wipes seem like a quick way to clean them, they contain alcohol and ammonia that can dry out the supple leather and damage its finish. Instead, opt for a commercial leather cleaner, or try a mix of warm water and dish soap, taking care not to soak the leather.

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Granite Countertops

Tempted to clean those gleaming granite countertops with disinfecting wipes? Use caution. Repeatedly scrubbing them with the acidic wipes can break down the sealant on the granite, leaving them vulnerable to long-term damage. For daily cleaning, you can simply use dish soap and hot water. To disinfect them, a spritz of isopropyl alcohol can do the trick, according to the Kitchn.

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Your toilet can be ground zero for germs, and you can certainly use disinfecting wipes to clean the seat and exterior with no ill effects. But there’s a big catch: Never, never flush them when you’re done, experts warn. Unlike toilet paper, wipes don’t adequately dissolve when they’re flushed, which can clog your pipes and mean big plumbing bills in the long run.

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Delicate Clothing

Got an embarrassing midday stain? Scrubbing at it with a disinfecting wipe may make it less noticeable, but it won’t do certain types of clothing any favors. The alcohol in the wipes can fade colors and damage more delicate acrylic and acetate garments. Our favorite way to clean up in a pinch? Portable stain solutions like Tide to Go.

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Vehicle Touchscreens

Your greasy fingerprints are all over it, but put those disinfecting wipes away. The alcohol and ammonium compounds in the wipes can eat away the screens’ protective coatings and eventually cause fogging or blotching, manufacturers warn. Instead, clean these screens with soap and water, taking care not to get them too wet. Nissan also recommends wipes specially formulated for screens, but specifically warns against any that are "anti-microbial."

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We hope we don’t need to tell you this, but you should never clean fruit, veggies, or any other food with disinfecting wipes, as the ingredients are not meant to be ingested and may lead to vomiting. The FDA says all you need to do is rinse, rub, or scrub produce under running water to make it safe to eat (you don’t even need soap).

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Unfinished Wood Furniture or Floors

Like the rustic look? Be careful. While Clorox says you can use its disinfecting wipes on wood, an asterisk notes the company means only "polyurethane treated wood." Because unfinished wood acts as a sponge, it can absorb too much of the wipes’ cleaning solution, eventually swelling, cracking, or warping. The Canadian Conservation Institute recommends dry cleaning methods such as using a stiff brush and a vacuum.

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Dishes and Food Storage Containers

If you eat off of it or store food inside it, be sure not to wipe it down with a disinfecting wipe, as convenient as it may be. The chemicals in the wipes aren’t meant to be ingested, of course, and can linger on hard surfaces. If you really want to disinfect your dishes, use the hottest water possible on their next trip through the dishwasher, buy antibacterial dish soap, or use a solution of bleach and water, Real Simple recommends.

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Use Caution: Your Smartphone

Until recently, most experts cautioned against using disinfecting wipes to clean your smartphone, but the pandemic has turned conventional wisdom on its head. Apple now says it’s okay to use wipes to clean your phone, but warns that you need to be gentle and stick to the hard outer surfaces, taking care not to get cleaner inside the charging ports or other openings. (For the record, Samsung also says disinfectants are okay, but recommends they be applied with a microfiber cloth.)