As any parent will tell you, wet wipes become a parenting essential once you have kids. And I can’t tell you how many times friends, who fly less frequently than we do, ask panicking before their flight: can I take baby wipes on the plane? Do wet wipes fall under security restriction for liquids?
Yes, you can take wetwipes, baby wipes, toilet wipes or face wipes on the plane in your hand luggage. These do not fall under the liquid restrictions* of the airport and airline security. Just whatever you do, DO NOT flush them and DO consider how you pack the wipes and what sort of wet wipes you use!
*In the USA, the TSA has coined the memorable 3-1-1 rule for the quantity of liquids allowed. They also specifically address the question of wet wipes and state that they can be taken in carry-on and checked luggage.
Several airline and airport sites also highlight “Wet wipes are fine.” (from London Gatwick Airport’s security brief)
In the UK and EU, the security liquids restriction states a maximum of 1 liters liquids and gels in containers no larger than 100ml, all placed into a single closed, transparent ziplock bag (approximate size of 20cm x 20cm). Each passenger is only allowed one ziplock bag.
- Considerations for packing baby wipes
- Environmental considerations for wet wipes
- What are your environmentally-friendly baby wipe alternatives?
- Are Wetwipes Effective against Viruses and Bacteria?
Why all the fuss about wet wipe?
Well, wet wipes contain liquids and wet wipes are extremely handy when travelling. They are not just for babies either. Wet wipes can be used to clean sticky hands, seats, tables, dirty toys, as toilet wipes or makeup remover.
Keep in mind, that all baby wipes are wet wipes, but not all wet wipes are baby wipes. Baby wipes are suitable for sensitive applications, with less and more gentle chemicals added (hopefully).
Some scanners will pick up wet wipes during the security screening and this may require you to have your bags go through a more thorough screening. Generally, it is just added security and should give you nothing to worry about. (In fact, some airports, like Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, are implementing new scanner technology which doesn’t require you to take out your liquids anymore.)
Considerations for packing baby wipes
How to pack wet wipes
Wet wipes, the name suggests are wet, therefore they can leak and wet the items around them. (I speak from experience, after wondering why my baby’s fresh clean pair of trousers were soaking wet. Never realised just how much fluid is in those baby wipes!) So it’s always prudent to pack wet wipes in either a box or an additional Ziploc bag.
A box of wet wipes is quite handy, but it does tend to take up little more space. On the other hand, a box will be better at stopping your wet wipes from drying out.… as long as you clip the top closed.
Some wet wipes have a peel-back reclosable sticky opening. These reclosable seals don’t tend to last the whole lifespan of the package of the wet wipes. I prefer to use these packets in a box that seals shut and keeps the moisture in the wet wipes, but the least to have them a ziploc bag.
Even wet wipes with the flip-flop lid are best stored in an additional Ziploc bag, in case the packaging splits.
Where to pack wet wipes?
Baby wipes are one of those, like tissues, that you always want at hand. Pack wet wipes in an easily accessible place, in the diaper bag, your handbag or in the grab bag of your hand luggage.
My test for where to pack my wetwipes has always been: can I get to it with one hand (with baby or child in the other and full-on mess in the other)? Same for opening and accessing the wipes… Go for a packaging that works for you.
Take baby wipes or buy them locally?
Wet wipes aren’t light and if you are trying to minimize the weight of your hand luggage then you might be considering taking a smaller (or partly-used) pack of baby wipes and buying supplies at your destination. This is generally a good idea.
However, consider that they may be significantly more expensive at your destination- as we have found in some countries-, or if you need wet wipes for sensitive skin or without perfume, these may not be as readily available everywhere.
Environmental considerations for wet wipes
For the same reason that wet wipes a great, -i.e. they are a cloth that doesn’t disintegrate while cleaning up messy jobs- they are dreadful for the environment: traditional baby wipes are a single-use plastic, most often made with cotton blended with polyester, polyethylene or polypropylene plastics. Most wet wipes are not biodegradable and will slowly break down into microplastics, contributing to a massive environmental problem.
Are Huggies and Pampers Baby Wipes biodegradable?
No, Huggies and Pampers regular baby wipes are not biodegragable! They are a single-use plastic that will break down into micro-plastics. In fact, their manufacturers boast with making them thicker and more durable.
Do I flush toilet wipes?
Whatever you do, do not flush wet wipes down the toilet!
It’s prudent not to put, even flushable wet wipes, toilet wipes or baby wipes down the toilet, as most systems just cannot cope. A macerator type toilet (the one that gives a grinding noise after being flushed) will be ruined by trying to flush a toilet wipe. Many municipal sewage systems also deploy macerators and pumps to move sewage.
Flushable is not more environmentally friendly. Don’t be fooled by labels!
Even in traditional sewers, those disgusting fatbergs clogging up sewers are often made up of a large proportion of wet wipes.
Don’t add to the plastic pollution
Some countries do not have rubbish handling systems at all. If you’re travelling to one of these countries and disposing of wet wipes then you might be contributing to plastic pollution even more, as they will end up uncontained in the environment and in the waterways.
As travellers, we feel, we need to take some responsibility to reduce our environmental impact, especially when being guests of other countries.
We need to ask ourselves: what is the real cost of baby wipe?
What are your environmentally-friendly baby wipe alternatives?
Biodegradable, compostable wipes
There is good news! More and more biodegradable and compostable wet wipes are coming onto the market. These perform as well as the traditional baby wipes, made from strong natural fibres and polymers, instead of plastics. The natural materials break down in 4-6 weeks after disposal.
The biodegradable baby wipes are more readily available in pharmacies, chemists, supermarkets and have also come down in price, and although you still pay slightly more per sheet. (Here you can see a good selection on Amazon: Biodegrabale wet wipes )
Do check reviews, as some still come in plastic packaging (even with BPA.)
Like with medicines, test any new brand of baby wipes before you fly, if you can, to avoid any allergic reactions why you are travelling.
It’s a good idea to have biodegradable nappy sacks in which you can collect used biodegradable wet wipes that you dispose of in a suitable green bin.
Very important: Don’t think because it’s biodegradable or compostable it can be flushed. They can’t be flushed! The sewage system doesn’t have the right chemical environment for the breakdown to happen effectively.
How to travel with reusable wipes
An alternative to the single-use baby wipes is to switch to a reusable solution of Terry towels or cloth wipes. These aren’t as easy, but you can consider it as a tiny step in offsetting your travel carbon emissions.
You have two options: go for a natural material- cotton, bamboo, etc.- or a man-made fibre. The advantage of the natural material is that it will decompose once it’s useful life is up and you bin it. However, it will dry slower in day-to-day use. For this reason, we ended up using microfibre cloths, which dried super fast and we were able to have fewer to cycle through.
- You can pre-wet your reusable wipes, soaking them in a light, gentle soap solution in advance and pack them, folded, into a ziplock bag.
- Make sure you don’t store them wet for longer than a day, especially at room temperature or above.
- Keep your used ones in another ziplock bag, washing them as soon as you have an opportunity.
(I have rinsed mine in the aircraft’s hand basin, making sure I cleaned up after ourselves)
- If you are using natural materials it’s prudent to boil your reusable wipes intermittently. Take care when (Just don’t try this in the hotel’s kettle! This is a serious fire hazard and hygiene issue.)
- Sundry whenever possible, as UV rays will also provide a level of disinfection.
We’ve asked parenting book author and Eco parenting expert, Emma Reed to share a more comprehensive guide to using cloth wipe while travelling. (pop over for a read if you want to lower your use of plastics.)
Are Wetwipes Effective against Viruses and Bacteria?
No, your general baby wipes and normal wet wipes are not effective against viruses and bacteria. Baby wipes are formulated to “contain ingredients that are safe and mild on skin, which is important to help minimize skin irritation and discomfort.” 
Wet wipes are suitable for cleaning the surfaces- like your tray table, baby changing table, armrests- from general dirt and impurities. They do not, however, disinfect. This is why it’s also recommended that after using wet wipes to clean your baby you then wash your hands, properly, for 20 seconds with lathered soap and rinse in running water.
To have a disinfecting effect we need to use pretty harsh chemicals, which if we use directly on the skin, repeatedly, would not be healthy, especially for a baby’s delicate skin!
Disinfectant wipes have a high concentration of bleach and other chemicals in them. These can be used on hard surfaces to clean and disinfect but are recommended to be used sparingly and with protective equipment such as gloves.
Things like hand sanitizers, alcoholic hand gel have emollients added to them to protect the skin cells from breaking down, while they break down bacteria and virus cells.
If you want to achieve a good disinfecting result when you don’t have access to soap and clean water for your hands, for example, you would:
First, use the wet wipes to clean the hands, remove dirt, faecal matter and odd particles;
Then you use the hand gel to sanitize your hands afterwards.
You could use this method to clean surfaces too: wipe down with a wetwipe and then spray or spread the hand sanitizer, using a clean tissue to spread the gel and wipe it down. (You want to be working from left to right – or reverse- but not in a back and forth motion, going over areas you’ve already wiped.) Dispose of the tissue afterwards.
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So…Happy flying and don’t forget your wetwipes! 😉
If you have any specific biodegradable, compostable brand recommendations, please give them below!
1. TSA site on liquid restrictions- https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/liquids-rule
2. TSA on Wet wipes- https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/wet-wipes
3. Gatwick airport’s security guidelines document: https://www.gatwickairport.com/globalassets/documents/passengers/security/55506_securityguidelines_jan2014.pdf
4. About Fatbergs: https://www.thameswater.co.uk/be-water-smart/Bin-it/What-is-a-fatberg
5. How biodegradable fibres work: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780081005750000036
7. Allergenic Ingredients in Hand Wet Wipes Aschenbeck, Kelly A. BS; Warshaw, Erin M. MD, MSAuthor Information Dermatitis: September/October 2017 – Volume 28 – Issue 5 – p 329-330 – https://journals.lww.com/dermatitis/Citation/2017/09000/Allergenic_Ingredients_in_Hand_Wet_Wipes.11.aspx
8. The science behind wet wipes for infant skin: Ingredient review, safety, and efficacy by Karien J. Rodriguez PhD Corey Cunningham PhD Robert Foxenberg PhD Douglas Hoffman MS Rebecca Vongsa PhD First published:17 February 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/pde.14112