It’s crazy to think about how many germs we come in contact with day to day, from germs on door handles, ID cards, desks, etc. At home, my mom is a religious user of Clorox wipes to kill germs; she is always cleaning something or wiping off my younger siblings’ toys. The other night my roommate and I spent an hour organizing, vacuuming, and straightening up our room, as it desperately needed it. Of course to clean the countertops we used none other than Clorox wipes, just like my mom always does. The yellow container in which the disinfectant wipes are held has two bold blue and red statements on it; one being “kills cold and flu viruses” and another “kills 99.9% of bacteria in 30 seconds.” When reading these brief facts, I found it interesting that Clorox wipes claim to kill 99.9% of bacteria. In class, we have been learning that there is always an element of chance involved in any case, so it would be wrong for Clorox to advertise killing germs 100%, so instead they say 99.9%. In my opinion, the .1% difference is insignificant. Therefore, I wanted to research just how true the advertised effectiveness of the wipes really is.
While researching, I found an experimental study completed by Dr. Charles P. Gerba during June, July, and August of 2001 designed to do three things: quantify the amount of bacteria on workplace surface areas, determine the workplace areas with the largest amount of germs, and also to test how effective the use of one Clorox wipe a day on these surface areas is to kill illness-inducing germs in workplaces. Four different offices located in busy cities were tested; New York, Tampa, San Francisco, and Tuscon. Participants at each location were split into two groups, one a control group that was not given a Clorox wipe a day, and another group, the experimental group, that was given one Clorox wipe a day to clean their specified workplace area. Twelve different areas were tested in the study, including desktop, phone, mouse, computer keyboard, microwave door handle, elevator buttons, photocopier start button, photocopier surface, fax machine, toilet seat, fridge handle, and water fountain handle. All participants were asked to go about their normal routines, except the experimental group was asked to use a Clorox wipe to clean their working area right after lunch was over. Each surface was measured three times a day to test the level of bacteria; the first measurement was early in the morning and the other two at lunch and later on. An average of ten office cubicles within each city location were part of the experiment and 7,000 samples were collected all together. The researcher studied the data and found that the most germ infected surfaces in an office include the phone, desktop, water fountain handle, microwave handle, and keyboard respectively. Interestingly, the workplace areas of the control group, non-wipe users, gained an average of 31% more illness-causing bacteria during the day while the bacteria was reduced by 99.9% or more on the most infected workplaces of the experimental group, the wipe users.
Therefore, two conclusions can be drawn from this experiment. One is that the use of one Clorox wipe a day effectively kills at least 99.9% of illness causing germs on the most contaminated surfaces. The other conclusion is that offices that are disinfected everyday have fewer germs than the desks alone of other offices that are not.
After reading over this study, I was pretty convinced that Clorox wipes do in fact kill 99.9% of germs. Reverse causation would make no sense because germs are not caused due to the use of wipes, and I felt this study also did a good job holding all other variables constant to determine if the wipes alone made a difference. No other cleaning products were used, and people did not change their workplace behaviors other than those told to do so in the experimental group. However, as in most experimental designs, chance is hard to account for and the data collected in this study could have possibly been reported inaccurately.
Another studied reported on from the ABC News Medical Unit by Allyson Collins in 2008 described an experiment conducted by researchers from the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University in Wales in which they used several different types of disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces that were contaminated with the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria including a Methicillin-resistant type commonly known as MSRA that has been prevalent in hospitals. The study concluded that the disinfectant wipes, including Clorox, destroyed the most bacteria, even though they did not remove as much bacteria as a few others. The researchers found that while the wipes destroyed the bacteria, the bacteria stayed on the wipes after use, and if reused, transported the bacteria to other surfaces. Therefore, the wipes are most effective after only one use.
Therefore, it appears as though Clorox wipes are in fact 99.9% effective, but only after one use. When looked at in this regard, reverse causation is possible, as reusing wipes would be causing an increase in the spread of germs rather than limiting the number of germs. The first experiment mentioned, the experimental study, therefore eliminated the possibility of reverse causation and aligns with the second study in this regard, as researchers only had the research participants use one wipe to clean up their work areas.
On a side note, in light of our recent discussion of Ebola in class, Clorox sales increased over the month of September by 28% due to the preparation of paranoid Americans to fight the virus. Other general disinfectant products’ sales were also up by 13%, as well as an increase in Hand Sanitizer sales by 8% according to Claire Suddath on Businessweek.com.