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The History of Sanitizing Wipes - How Hand Sanitizer Dominated the Market


Question: were we always so terrified of germs? Answer: no.

This is why sanitizing wipes are such a fascinating cultural artifact- they physically represent our growing phobia of the supposedly threatening dangerous forces which surround us.  Major producers of sanitizing wipes these days are Purell, Lysol, and Clorox, and these companies are doing a bang-up job of getting these handy cleaners into every possibly-infected space imaginable.

The Emergence and Evolution of Sanitizing Wipes

Before sanitizing wipes, one of the most popular forms of convenient protection from threatening invisible assailants came in the form of hand sanitizer, which, according to, “was first available as the product ‘Gojo’ in 1946.”

Interestingly enough, sanitizing wipes have been largely obscure until only a couple of years ago. Even in the 1990s, disinfecting wipes were only seen as necessary in extreme situations, which is quite a contrast to today’s conception of the cultural artifact’s importance. Mr. Clean Wipe-Ups and Clorox Wipes both made their debut on January 4th, 2000, and subsequent product launches began to build up what would soon be a rapidly expanding and evolving market.

While I cannot be exactly sure of when sanitizing wipes entered mainstream society on a large scale, the Google Trends data charted below indicates that interest has peaked (particularly in news outlets) only recently, and has remained central to the North America.


Recent flu panics (swine flu, avian flu, SARS…) may have been significant factors in increasing demand for these products, which are now ubiquitous in offices, gyms, and countless other public and private spaces.

Hand sanitizing wipes, while initially offered as an in-home / office / classroom product for cleaning public surfaces, have since edged their way back into the hand sanitizer market by offering more portable solutions as brand extensions.

Sanitizing Wipes Today

Because non-portable sanitizing wipes are becoming a normal component of so many homes, offices, and schools, companies have started making an effort to improve the appearance of their packaging. Clorox provides a good example: Brand Engine recently “created ‘counter top’ worthy designs that leveraged the Clorox brand strategy, supporting the promise of happy, healthy family living.” This improved design is intended to encourage consumers to leave these products out on tabletops (so they may be depleted at a greater pace), as well as entice them in retail outlets.

In 2009, Clorox also sponsored the ‘Redesign Clean’ contest in which it encouraged fans to submit designs for new canisters, thus further engaging consumers in the joyful processes of the sanitizing industry.

In the future, we may expect to see even more fashionable design for sanitizing wipe packaging, as well as increasingly sophisticated sanitizing wipes, perhaps reinforced to protect us from new strains of flu or bacteria which threaten to invade our clean, disinfected bubble worlds. Let us hope these wipes evolve quickly enough to keep us safe from… them.

Sources and Further Reading

The History of Hand Sanitizer (, Warren)
The History of Clorox Wipes (
Cancer pits boy versus environment (Herald & Review, Sarah Antonacci)
History of Disinfecting Wipes 1910-2010 (Google Timeline)
History of Sanitizing Wipes 1940-2010 (Google Timeline)
Fashionable and Functional: New Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes Come out of the Cabinet with Stylish, Easy-to-Use Packaging (The Clorox Company)
Clorox Introduces Décor Packaging for Wipes, Creates Design Contest (Packaging Digest)


Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on August 30, 2010:

Hahaa- good point. That was the beginning of the end O_____O

Peter Allison from Alameda, CA on August 29, 2010:

The worst was when sanitaizing wipes started appearing outside of grocery stores. It made me really self conscious about NOT wiping the handles of my cart and have even waited to grab a cart (without wiping) when I was sure no one was looking. (That said, I hope I didn't infect anyone.)

kaltopsyd from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA on August 02, 2010:

Exactly! It seems the research can never make up its mind. Yes, the research itself... not the people who do the research. haha.

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Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on August 02, 2010:

Hahaa- yeah, when it comes to sanitization, I don't know WHAT to do. I follow equealla's advice and wash my hands with soap and water, and I don't touch my face, but honestly... I have no idea what's best. We are told so many conflicting things!

kaltopsyd from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA on August 02, 2010:

I've heard that always sanitizing your hand may actually get rid of "good bacteria" but I tend to carry around hand sanitizer. Oh well...

Very interesting Hub. It's good to know the history of sanitizers.

equealla from Pretoria, South Africa on August 01, 2010:

A study in one of our hospitals has proven that 60% of the patients admitted in the multi-intensive care unit, had the mrsa test positive. Scary, but true. We walk around in the shopping malls with a lot of sick people around us, and they themselves do not realise they are carriers.

The sad part is, mrsa gets killed outside the body, just by the good practise of using soap and water! That is, wash your hands regularly!

Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on July 31, 2010:

We *do* over-sanitize ourselves. That's why the history of how we got to this place is so interesting.

Brenda K Krupnow from Ravenden, AR on July 31, 2010:

Good article, however, mighten we over-sanitize ourselves? Being exposed to germs can often help boost our immune systems. For example; kids who are never allowed to play in the dirt are often sicken than those who do.

Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on July 31, 2010:

Scary, isn't it? Yeah, there is something to say for getting grimy.

The hard thing is doing so, now that we've been conditioned to be such germ phobes.

stugod on July 31, 2010:

lc is right on the money with his comments on this. In the uk we now have super bugs which are killing people on a weekly basis "mrsa". I have brought my kids up in an environment surrounded by animals, Cats dogs horses and the like as that is how I was brought up. With the exception of having appendicitis I have never had a days illness in my life.

LC on July 31, 2010:

There is theory though that speculates that because our environment as a whole is so much cleaner now than before (due to public health measures, clean water and hand-washing, and nifty items like hand sanitizers), that people now suffer from more autoimmune diseases.

With newer, and more sophisticated kinds of antibacterial products, one has to wonder how germ-kind will evolve? It might end up like antibiotics, and the evolution of MRSA...Terrifying!

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