Ask any parent of a small child what’s the one thing they never leave home without and you can pretty much guarantee they’ll say baby wipes. Brilliant for cleaning baby bottoms, baby wipes are also great for wiping faces, cleaning fingers and generally mopping up all manner of little (and big) person spills.
There are lots of baby-wipe brands out there, so it pays to be aware of what to look for when choosing the right wipe for your baby. It also matters that you know how to use, store and dispose of your baby wipes properly.
Here, with the help of an expert paediatric dermatologist, we’ve got all the answers to the most-important baby-wipe questions…
Is there a right way to use a baby wipe?
Yes, you should always wipe from front to back, particularly if you are changing the nappy of a baby girl.
This is all about being careful not to spread poo (and any bacteria that’s lurking in it) into the vaginal or penile area where it could trigger a urinary tract infection.
“I would use a different wipe for the front (wee) and the back (poo),” says Dr Cairine Wilkinson, a consultant specialising in paediatric dermatology at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.
You should also take care to clean the whole nappy area gently but thoroughly, making sure you clean inside any folds of skin.
How many wipes do you need to change a nappy?
Ah, well that really does depend, obviously, on what’s been going on down below!
As a minimum, you’ll need a wipe for the front and a wipe for the back (see above).
But if your baby’s done a particularly sticky or explosive poo, you may find you need many, many more.
And – tip from the multiply-sprayed-upon parents of baby boys – always drape a clean wipe over your little boy’s penis as soon as you undo the dirty nappy: there’s something about the rush of fresh air that tends to trigger a wee that’ll catch you in the face otherwise!
How can you tell if a pack of baby wipes is suitable for newborn skin?
“Baby skin is thinner and more delicate than adult skin,” says Dr Wilkinson, “and is therefore more easily irritated.”
Many baby wipes are perfectly fine for newborn skin but if you want to be sure you’re buying ones that are absolutely the least likely to irritate or dehydrate newborn skin, look for packs that are labelled ‘sensitive’, ‘fragrance-free’ and/or ‘alcohol free’.
Much recommended in this ‘sensitive’ category by parents right now are chemical-free, water-based wipes, such as Lidl’s Lupilu Biodegradable Wipes which are 99.1% water, extra-sensitive, and come in 100% recyclable packaging.
“For very young babies, I would always recommend using sensitive, fragrance-free wipes where possible,” says Dr Wilkinson. “The water-based wipes are probably even better.”
Isn’t it better to use cotton wool and water, rather than baby wipes, when changing nappies?
Hospital midwives do often recommend cotton wool and water for cleaning off your baby’s very sticky greenish-black first poo (meconium). But once your baby is passing a more yellowy, more runny poo, NHS advice is to use either cotton wool or baby wipes.
And indeed, a study carried out by University of Manchester researchers found that baby wipes had the same effect on baby skin hydration as cotton wool and water. The researchers concluded that “these findings offer reassurance to parents who choose to use baby wipes and to health professionals who support their use”.
How do you dispose of used baby wipes?
Put them in the rubbish bin, not down the loo. Baby wipes are not flushable and, even if they are biodegradable, they should not be placed in your compost bin (human waste is not suitable for composting).
This doesn’t mean biodegradable baby wipes aren’t worth bothering with if you’re worried about the environment: biodegradable baby wipes are usually plant-based, rather than plastic-based, meaning they’re less environmentally harmful to manufacture and, once thrown away, won’t have so much of an impact on the environment as they degrade and decompose.
Can you use baby wipes on your baby’s face and hands, as well as bottom?
Yes! “Wipes can be used for faces and hands – and other areas of the body – as well as bottoms, although you may want to stick to ‘sensitive’ wipes for delicate areas, such as faces,” says Dr Wilkinson.
And that’s great news for when your baby’s a bit older and starts moving around more (messy hands) and weaning (messy everything!) and you don’t have a clean, damp flannel to hand.
How do you keep baby wipes fresh once the pack is opened?
If you’re anything like us, you’ll probably have several packs of baby wipes on the go at once – a pack in the kitchen, the lounge, the bedroom, the changing bag, the car – and it’s a right pain when you go to pull a wipe out and find it’s no longer moist and fresh.
To avoid your wipes drying out like this, make sure you carefully reseal the plastic tab every time you open it to get a wipe out. Or you can buy a wipes dispenser, with a rubber-seal lid, to decant your pack into.
Better still, look for packs that have clickable lids, instead of a tab. You’ll know when you hear the ‘click’ as you press the lid down post-nappy-change that your wipes are protected and won’t dry out before you need them again.
How long does an opened baby wipes pack stay usable for?
Most opened packs of wet wipes should stay fresh for 3 months – though we’re willing to bet you’ll have finished the pack way before then!
Obviously, it’s important to make sure the pack is resealed properly after each use (see above) and it’s a good idea to keep it at room temperature and out of direct sunlight, if you can.
The biggest risk to an opened pack is that the water content in the wipes will evaporate and dry out. You can rehydrate dried-out wipes with water but only if you have access to filtered water (the water in baby wipes is always filtered, rather than taken straight from the tap).
Otherwise, you can use any dried-out wipes to mop up spills (they’ll still be super-absorbent) – much better than simply chucking them out.
How long does an unopened baby wipes pack stay usable for?
You may not be able to find a Use By or Best Before date on a baby wipes pack but it’s generally accepted that an unopened pack will remain usable for at least 12 months, if not more. Good to know if you like to buy in bulk or snap up extra packs when they’re on offer.
Can I use baby wipes be used for anything else other than cleaning my baby?
You most certainly can. Most parents quickly find that baby wipes are handy for all sorts of non-baby-changing cleaning activities.
They’re great for wiping up spills and dribbles on the front of clothing, for example, or cleaning up highchair trays or tables. They’re perfect for wiping down a food-encrusted toy or cleaning sticky fingerprints off walls. We’ve even used them to get bird mess off car windscreens, shine up shoes or do a cheeky bit of low-effort dusting. It’s no wonder many parents continue to buy baby wipes long after their children are out of nappies…
About our author Helen Copson
Helen Copson is a journalist and creator of the award-winning parent blog Twins,Tantrums and Cold Coffee. She has a 5-year-old boy and 3-year-old boy twins and worked on the Plymouth Herald for 15 years before turning to freelance writing and blogging. She lives in Plymouth with her husband and boys and is often found breaking up fights and cleaning felt tip pen off the walls – with baby wipes, of course!
Pics: Getty Images