Do You Really Need Antiseptic Wipes While Traveling?

“I ’ll be flying and staying in a hotel this weekend and you can bet that I’ll be stocking up on antiseptic wipes and being more cautious while I’m traveling. While no study is perfect and all have a margin of error, I’m going to take this one quite serious and alter some of my travel habits.”

Christine Krzyszton is one of the best writers who contribute to Frugal Travel Guy, in my opinion; but despite her claim that “I’m not paranoid about germs but I could certainly be more careful of the surfaces I touch when traveling” in this article pertaining to learning about the dirtiest, most disgusting surfaces you will encounter during your travels, the statement at the beginning of this article suggests otherwise.

Article after article is released pertaining to the risks to your health which purportedly lurk on the surfaces of objects which you might touch during your travels — such as the remote control in your hotel room or the button to flush the toilet in a lavatory — and they are usually prevalent during the winter months when people are typically most susceptible to contracting an illness. Using the same source as Christine Krzyszton — Travelmath, in this case — but citing a different article, Keri Anderson of Heels First Travel also pointed out the dirtiest places aboard airplanes and in airports in this articlethis article points out seven ways travel wreaks havoc on your health written  16 tips for staying healthy while traveling as 

Are these articles simply rhetoric whose purpose is to alarm; or are they informative and helpful?

Probably a combination of both, in my opinion.

Water You Talking About?

Christine Krzyszton wrote that “You may not suspect it, but the dirtiest surface in the airport was the drinking fountain button.” For as long as I can remember, my paternal aunt warned me about the potential dangers of drinking from a water fountain. This is nothing new; and yet, I still drink from one if I happen to be really thirsty — especially if it is equipped with the cover which protects the source of the water from being touched by the lips of other thirsty people.

Guess what? I am still alive — last I checked, anyway.

Do You Really Need Antiseptic Wipes While Traveling?

The aforementioned linked articles are fine and dandy for alerting you to on which surfaces bacteria lurks, awaiting your touch to spring into action; but studies show that not only might you not need antiseptic wipes — but they may actually be bad for you rather than good.

For example, antimicrobial wipes and soaps — typically used in hospitals — may be causing you and the rest of society to be sick, according to this article written by Rob Dunn for Scientific American. “More than a hundred species of bacteria (not to mention fungi and other kinds of organisms) can be found on a single hand of any given adult or for that matter belly button, forehead or other part, at any given moment.” He continues to say that “there are the tourists. It is these tourists that cause us harm, the tourists who bear chemical knives.”

Therein comes the big question: “But what do antibiotic wipes and soaps do? Amazingly, no one really knows. In the vacuum of a laboratory they can kill both viruses and bacteria, but what about on the jungle of our bodies?”

Dunn concluded his article with the following statement — and some excellent advice: “It turns out that although we know that washing our hands prevents a range of illnesses and are incredibly eager to buy products marketed to kill germs, we don’t actually take the simpler measure of washing hands in the first place. A study of nearly eight thousand individuals in five U.S. cities found almost half of the participants failed to wash their hands after going to the bathroom. In this light, no mystery salve is necessary, no miracle cure, special wipe, or magic. We need to wash our hands, because soap does the body good, at least in all the ways studied so far. It is not fancy. It is not expensive or heavily marketed and yet it works, as it long has, even though as of yet, no one can conclusively, unambiguously, tell you why.”

Another symptom of the use — or overuse, to be more specific — of antiseptic wipes is that they tend to dry out your hands. Cold air during the winter is typically less humid by nature; so your hands already have the potential propensity to become dry, cracked and painful — leading to the application of creams and lotions to hands. Some of them could contain ingredients which may not be suitable for accidental ingestion should you eat a finger food while your hands are bathed in that cream or lotion, which could lead to a new set of problems.

I rarely use creams or lotions for my hands; and on the occasion when I do use them, it is usually at night immediately prior to going to sleep. This way, my hands have time under the warm covers to allow the cream or lotion to penetrate the skin. My hands usually are improved significantly the next morning when I wake up, which at that time I use the bathroom and then wash my hands immediately afterwards.

There is also the suggestion that antiseptic wipes can actually be bad for you: “While cleaning removes germs from a surface, disinfecting kills them by using antimicrobial pesticides, such as quaternary ammonium compounds or ‘quats’”, according to this article written by Megan Boyle for Healthy Child Healthy World. “These disinfectant chemicals trigger asthma, allergies and other health concerns. Although the EPA monitors pesticides in these products, that is no guarantee of safety. The regulatory body may approve chemical ingredients that have been insufficiently tested for health risks.”

Some Alternatives In Order to Stay Healthy

As readers of The Gate typically opine when commenting on articles similar to this one, some exposure to living bacteria is ironically healthy for us, as it can strengthen immune systems — but overuse of disinfectants can lead to bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics known as superbugs.

One simple trick which I employ is to use a paper towel to turn faucets on or off; or to use on doorknobs or door handles to open the door to a washroom. This not only helps to prevent me from contracting germs and bacteria which may be potentially harmful to me; but it also helps me from spreading my germs elsewhere. Even better is that paper towels are not usually dangerous to use, as they typically do not contain toxic or harmful chemicals.

When sneezing, use your arm and not your hand. If other people did this, the spread of germs could potentially decrease.

These are only three of many alternatives where we can collectively keep ourselves from unnecessarily spreading germs around — especially in closed and confining environments such as the interiors of airplanes…

…and here is an article which contains three ways to stay healthy this winter season — or frankly, all year long.

Summary

Taking in the information in the conglomeration of articles which both support and oppose the use of antiseptic products such as wipes — and even though different measures work for different people — I tend to believe that my system appears to work the best, at least for me: I wash my hands thoroughly whenever I get an opportunity; but I often do not wash my hands immediately.

My secret is this: when I touch an object in which its cleanliness is questionable or in doubt, my mind automatically registers it and keeps it registered until I have the opportunity to properly wash my hands. I do not touch the sensitive parts of my body susceptible to germs — such as my eyes, nose, mouth and ears — until my hands are properly cleansed. It took some time to train and condition myself to think this way; but it works incredibly well, as I have not experienced any illness or sickness in years — not even a cold, although I might have endured an occasional insignificant sniffle or two which lasted only hours before disappearing.

To answer the question which is the headline of this article — at least for myself, anyway — I have never carried antiseptic wipes with me when traveling over the years…

…and I am not about to start now.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

5 thoughts on “Do You Really Need Antiseptic Wipes While Traveling?”

  1. Santastico says:

    Once on a Delta flight this lady spent over 20 minutes and a full box of wipes to clean her entire business class seat. Yes, she wipes the entire place before seating.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is just plain ridiculous, Santastico.

      I will bet your head was shaking in disbelief when you witnessed that…

  2. Nick says:

    Most of the things you can catch in public spaces are airborne anyways…

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You are correct, Nick.

      Please pardon the poor grammar; but that is nothing to sneeze about…

  3. Christine K says:

    Thanks for the mention, Brian! You make a good point about not overdoing it with the antiseptic wipes. I grew up playing outside, getting dirty, and probably touching a lot of things that were pretty gross (dead animals, wild unidentified mushrooms and berries, bugs etc). I think we need to be exposed to a certain amount of bacteria to build up our resistance. Nice article and appreciate your take on this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *