In the last decade, wet wipes moved well beyond baby wipes, formerly the main player. They have invaded every category in skin care, household, institutional and industrial segments. Within these major segments, both commodity and niche products are taking amazing hold, with convenience still driving demand. As new performance factors continue to appear, more products are launched every year.
Still, there is the competition with its own strengths. An overview of some alternatives (which often overlap) to wet wipes is helpful in assessing strengths and weaknesses, as well as bringing new ideas to wipes development.
1. Tissue and towels
3. Wovens and reusables
Tissue-Based Products—A Long-Term Competitor
Before there were wet wipes, there was the paper towel and spray bottle. In household cleaning, the paper towel and liquid spray are still formidable competitors to wet wipes. This combination has its strong points including good, economical price points. There are some performance pluses and minuses to consider in certain tasks. Paper towels can be weak, though many now boast better strength, and even reuse potential. Linting, with stray fibers, is not a desirable trait. Paper towel/liquid combinations can offer non-streak results for window cleaning, polishing and similar tasks. And tissue is recycled, plus recyclable, biodegradable, compostable and made from renewable cellulose, often from certified and managed forests.
Battling against paper towels and liquid combinations, wet wipes are increasingly economical for general use. They offer great strength, thick and thin choices, options for fragrance and performance features often not possible with paper towels and their liquid complements. Sanitizing, antibacterial wet wipes answer concerns about everything from E-coli to contracting the flu, depending on design for surface cleaning or skin contact. Convenience and attractive packaging drive many buying decisions too.
Nonwovens fabrics are so design-friendly, especially when compared to tissue/paper products. Processes like hydroentangled/spunlaced allow fabric designers to feed various fibers into multiple layered or intermingled materials. They can have non-linting surface features with absorbent center elements, for example. They can be two-sided with scrubbing and polishing surfaces. They can incorporate powders, as in the case of airlaid nonwovens, or other ingredients built right into the fabric or easily accepted treatments in converting. Nonwovens can simulate wash cloths, embossed patterns that mimic more expensive fabrics like linen napkins and address a full range of specialty fabric designs. In short, they can compete with tissue by additions of cellulose or leap to high-value-added fabrics with other content.
With the latest fibers from companies like NatureWorks, nonwovens are competing with tissue/ cellulose, being derived from renewable resources.
Liquids, Sprays Play Big In Cleaning
Liquid cleaners are huge competition for wet wipes, whether they are used in combination with towels, mops or devices. Liquids in sprays, jugs and various containers cover a full spectrum of household, janitorial and institutional categories. Some of the latest trends in liquid products include water-based, biodegradable and task-based products. General cleaning liquids are popular, but niche products are finding their buyers too. Everything from a range of specialty automotive, marine and grease cleaners to glass, sanitizing and restorative products line the shelves at places like Home Depot and other big box and retail outlets. Currently trendy are liquid concentrates offering economy, with reduced packaging.
Liquid products do not have to address interactions and compatibility with nonwovens, towels and wet packaging choices. Generally, these product developers do not have to be concerned that their strong performing liquid might break down the latest PLA biobased package, for example.
Wovens and Reusables Have Their Proponents
Executives in the disposable nonwovens wipes industry always have to “explain” why they can compete with reusables in terms of amount of waste after use. Leaders in the disposables industry have done a good job comparing disposables with laundered shop towels, for example, where cleaning chemicals are an issue. However, there is a core group of reusables producers and consumers who tout reusables as more earth-friendly. Helping nonwovens disposable wet wipes gain ground is their convenience and performance. The promise of a fresh-one-every-time and lack-of-contamination by nonwovens wet wipes is more compelling than ever in today’s germophobic environment.
In the reusables categories, from dusting cloths to mops, microfiber products have steadily gained attention. Currently many of the far eastern suppliers in Taiwan and elsewhere known for supplying “shop rags” are also producing microfiber fabrics to western markets. Popular in automotive and dusting applications, these materials pick up debris, are “soft and silky,” non-linting and reusable.
According to Microfiber USA, "The popularity of micro - fiber towels is on the rise these days. Their main compositions are polyester and polyamine. These are fine threads that is said to be thinner than the human hair and finer than the cotton thread. They are also much better than silk. Because of this unique characteristic, microfiber is more absorbent than cotton. Dirt particles are also absorbed well by the microfiber towel. The dirt particles are locked into the fiber’s empty spaces making it a good dirt absorber compared to cotton that only pushes dirt from one position of the particle to another. This is also why microfiber towels can remove the filth at the same time maintaining the external area clean.” Competitive opposition is mostly seen as cotton woven fabrics.
Devices Tune Up Task Work
Combining, attaching, and reaching for more performance features are the latest cleaning devices. The Swiffer phenomenon could be looked at as the starting line in this era of options for cleaning and task work around the home. Luckily for the nonwovens industry, many of the devices to carry out cleanup jobs also incorporate nonwovens. The thinking seems to be...if you can just add a handle or something that reaches to the floor, the windows, into the corners of the bathtub...you can sell task-specific, highreturn devices. One wipes manufacturer said, “Too often wipes developers are their own worst enemies with me-too products, but these devices offer differentiation.”
With industrial and institutional wiping categories growing at 3-5%, both wiping products and their competitors will continue to do battle.