Wiped CleanMarket Focus – The role for cleaning wipes in office, industrial and commercial facilities

by Robert Kravitz — A little more than a decade ago, baby wipes were the only wipe products familiar to most people. Today, however, there are wipes in virtually every market segment—from skin care to automotive, to professional cleaning. Further, within each of these market segments, manufacturers have introduced niche wipes that will likely make the use of these products even more common in years to come. For instance, there are now specifically designed wipes within the cleaning industry alone for use in warehouse and industrial locations; others are specifically made for the health-care industry while still others are made for food-service use.

There are also wet and dry wipes: Wet wipes are pretreated with detergents, germicides, or antibacterial cleaning agents and are used for cleaning a variety of surfaces and fixtures as well as hands. Dry wipes are not pretreated with chemicals, but rather are designed to allow users to select what type of chemical—if any—they wish to apply when using the wipe.

Why Wipes?

A study published by the Cleveland, OH-based market research firm The Fredonia Group cites the following reasons for the popularity of wipes:

  • Ease-of-use. Typically, users can employ wipes right out of the box.
  • Less product. Often wipe users need only one product to clean surfaces versus a cleaning cloth or paper towel, a spray cleaner, and another cloth or towel for drying, for example.
  • Portability. Wipes are compact and lightweight, making them easy to transport.
  • Reduced risk of cross-contamination. Typically, wipes are used once and thrown away.

Undoubtedly based on some of these positive attributes sales of wipes in both the consumer and industrial/commercial market sectors are expected to increase in 2014, to US$2.3 billion according to The Freedonia Group’s study. There are, however, some skeptics: Some forecasters argue there is no guarantee that the demand for wipes will continue to grow, maintaining that the market for wipes has matured to the point that it has already attracted the buyers interested in using these products. Additionally, wipes have presented some environmental issues as some early wipe products were not environmentally friendly: Either the paper was not recyclable or not manufactured using recycled content or the chemicals added to the wipes were not biodegradable or were otherwise environmentally unfriendly. However, many manufacturers have addressed these issues, and some wipes are even certified by leading green-certification organizations.

Wipes do have competition, which may be far stronger in the professional cleaning industry than in the consumer market (where they are enjoying a surge as people move to more “as needed cleaning” due to busier schedules). Traditionally, most cleaning professionals used cleaning cloths and spray bottles filled with a cleaning agent. This combination definitely has its advantages; for instance, cloths can be washed and re-used, often making them economical.

In industrial wipes, one of the big competitors is rental towels, which services deliver and remove when soiled either for cleaning or proper disposal. And, of course, paper towels, have especially limited the adoption of wipes. Many paper towels are now manufactured using recycled paper and are recyclable themselves, making them green and sustainable. There are now even non-streak ones that can be used effectively for cleaning windows and surfaces as well as for other tasks.

Despite the competition, however, wet wipes for general cleaning are becoming increasingly popular, probably because they are often economical and now have greater strength, allowing them to hold up to more strenuous cleaning tasks. Some are fragrance-free; others include a variety of cleaning fragrances, chemicals—even degreasers, sanitizers, and antibacterial agents to address concerns ranging from E. coli to the flu virus.

Like towel manufacturers, any wipe manufacturers also have developed wipes that eliminate streaking and do not leave lint on surfaces—two noted problems with some earlier products. Further, two-sided wipes may soon find a niche in the professional cleaning industry. Already available for consumers, these wipes feature one side for scrubbing surfaces (often manufactured with cleaning powders in the paper) and another for general cleaning or polishing.

Industry Strength

As mentioned earlier, industrial or institutional wipes are now being manufactured for a myriad of applications in demanding specialty markets ranging from aerospace and health care to electronics and automotive. They will likely play a growing role in jansan distributor product lines in years to come.

Industrial wipes include several categories, such as:

  • Shop wipes, made specifically for automotive applications
  • Janitorial wipes for general cleaning and dusting
  • Specialty wipes for abrasion, resistance, and polishing
  • Heavy-duty hand cleaner wipes that remove grease, solvents, and contaminants
  • Low-lint wipes for cleaning delicate parts and electronics
  • General parts-cleaning wipes.

Industrial/institutional wipes are popular for the same reasons that consumer and professional cleaning wipes are used: greater convenience. However, for industrial applications, disposability is another key benefit. These wipes do have one drawback, however: Many industrial administrators have suggested that the materials that are absorbed into these wipes sometimes constitute hazardous waste and should be treated as such.

Another growing wipe niche (or sub-niche of industrial wipes) can be seen in the food-processing industry where hand sanitizing is critical for preventing cross-contamination. These niche wipes are specific to the food-processing industry because their ingredient formula meets the guidelines for use defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and federally regulated food-processing facilities. Having been found to be effective against common foodborne bacteria, at least one of these sanitizing wipes is listed with NSF International, approved for use in all the USDA-regulated (nonkosher) food processing environments. These wipes can be used to clean and sanitize surfaces, removing light soiling and dirt, and killing 99.99 percent of the most common germs that may cause illness.

To make wipes even easier to use, some manufacturers have developed automatic or hands-free wipe dispensers. Looking and functioning much like automatic paper towel dispensers, these systems are typically battery-operated and sensor-activated, preventing users from having to touch and possibly contaminate containers by grabbing a wipe with dirty hands.

The performance of wipes has improved significantly over the years, while their costs have come down. Further, wipe manufacturers realize that this product can play a vital role in maintaining health, safety, and cleaning standards in scores of different industries. As one observer pointed out, some industries have become so reliant on wipes, especially in manufacturing and industrial locations, that entire production operations would be brought to a halt without them.

Special thanks to Nicole Koharik, marketing director-sustainability at GOJO Industries (www.gojo.com) for her help with this article.

Robert Kravitz is president of AlturaSolutions Communications, a communications firm based in Chicago, IL.

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