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What Do Universal Wipes Contain?

What Do Universal Wipes Contain?

Universal wipes are designed to be tolerated on a wide range of non-porous surfaces and non-invasive medical devices. Because of this, their disinfecting formula must have a broad kill spectrum but not be too harsh or corrosive.

Universal disinfectant wipes should be safe to use with bare hands and shouldn’t damage surfaces like rubber, plastic, and metal, even with repeated use. This is all part of maintaining a clean environment. So, what’s in the disinfectant formula used in these infection control disposables?

What’s the active ingredient in universal wipes?

Universal cleaning wipes vary from brand to brand, so it’s essential to check with the manufacturer or supplier if you need to avoid certain chemicals. In addition to a detergent, all universal wipe formulas contain an active ingredient that kills germs and harmful agents. 

Universal wipes need to be able to kill a broad spectrum of potentially infectious microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and enveloped and non-enveloped viruses. There are two common actives used in universal wipe products.

1. Alcohol

Alcohol is widely known to be one of the most effective agents for killing germs. It efficiently kills bacteria in vegetative forms and TB, viruses, and fungi. 

Alcohol’s effectiveness as a disinfectant or sanitiser drops dramatically once its dilution is less than 50%. The optimal concentration is between 60% and 90%. WHO guidance is for manufacturers to use a concentration of at least 60% alcohol in products like hand sanitisers for them to be effective.

Universal alcohol wipes work by denaturing essential proteins to kill cells. Alcohol is one of the fastest active disinfecting agents. The stronger the solution, the faster the contact time (although too strong and the formula won’t be able to cover the surface area thoroughly enough). 

Isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol are the most common types of alcohol used as disinfectants. 

2. Quaternary Ammonium

Quaternary ammonium (quat) works by breaking down the walls of a cell to kill it, denaturing essential cell proteins. As such, quats need a little more time than alcohol solutions to work, but they are effective against a wide range of potentially infectious microorganisms.

Quats have been known to become less effective when used in conjecture with gauze or cotton as they could absorb too much of the active ingredient. This is why pre-dosed wipes impregnated with a specific amount of formula are preferable, having been tested for effectiveness and leaving little room for human error when using a solution with a cloth. 

Benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride are the most common quaternary ammonium compounds used for disinfection.

  Active Ingredient




  • No residue is left on the skin.
  • A highly effective disinfectant, capable of killing a large number of potentially infectious agents.
  • Fast contact kill time.
  • Minimal risk of allergic reaction.
  • Repeated exposure can dehydrate the skin.
  • Can cause discomfort to open wounds.
  • Can be detrimental to people with respiratory difficulties.

Quaternary Ammonium

  • Not flammable.
  • Do not string open wounds or dry, sensitive skin.
  • Less drying on the skin.
  • No unpleasant alcohol scent.
  • Ideal for use in schools and prisons where alcohol exposure could be a problem.
  • May be more irritating to the skin, depending on concentration.
  • Require a longer contact time to work.
  • Have a greater risk of causing contact allergies than alcohol.

Do universal wipes contain bleach?

Universal wipes generally don’t contain bleach because it is unnecessary. Universal wipes kill a broad spectrum of harmful microorganisms thanks to their active alcohol or quat ingredients. There's no need for bleach in universal wipes thanks to their bactericidal, fungicidal, and virucidal abilities. 

Bleach is sporicidal, whereas alcohol and quat are not. If you need to tackle spores, you might want to add bleach wipes like PDI Sani-Cloth® Chlor.

So, where are universal wipes safe to use? Can they be used on the skin? Are Universal Wipes Antibacterial? Find out in our blog.

PDI Sani-Cloth Universal Wipes

PDI Sani-Cloth AF Universal Wipes are made with quaternary ammonium solution to kill potentially harmful agents whilst protecting you from the harsh qualities of alcohol. 

  • PDI’s wipes are tested to be effective against bacteria, yeasts, and viruses. The wipes are tested to be effective at killing enveloped viruses, including SARS-CoV, and non-enveloped viruses, including norovirus. 
  • Unlike many quaternary ammonium wipes, PDI AF Universal Wipes are effective at killing TB. 
  • The wipes are approved and used in NHS facilities up and down the UK.
  • They are free of alcohol and PHMB to be kind to humans and animals.

Do you want to know more about where and how to use universal wipes? Take a look at the helpful guides in our blog.

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