Baby Wipes vs Cotton Wool For Babies

mom using cotton to clean her baby

When you’re preparing your home for a newborn it’s tempting to stock up on nappies, wipes, cotton wool and other accessories. Although your baby will quickly outgrow the smaller sized nappies, the good news with cotton wool and baby wipes is that they’ll last a long time. That being said, which is the better option, cotton wool or baby wipes?

If you’re trying to decide whether to use cotton wool or baby wipes, both are fine options in most cases. However, choosing between one or the other might depends on the sensitivity of your baby’s skin, the cost of buying either item, and also the environmental impact of either option. Let’s take a look at all this in more detail.

When to use wipes instead of cotton wool?

Choosing between either option is quite a controversial topic. The general advice from health professionals is to use cotton wool and water for cleaning newborn babies due to their sensitive skin. Cotton wool is softer and gentler compared to baby wipes, which often contain chemicals that can irritate a baby’s skin. However, there are various types of baby wipes, including some which are designed for sensitive skin, such as Pampers Sensitive, and even WaterWipes which contain 99.9% water and a hint of fruit extract.

Another disadvantage of baby wipes is that they are more expensive than cotton wool. But they are more convenient; ready to use as soon as you open up the packet. Baby wipes are also more effective at cleaning a baby than cotton wool, but they can dry out over time even if you don’t open the pack.

Are water wipes better than cotton wool?

If you’re looking for a baby wipe which is made from natural products, and as pure as cotton wool, then WaterWipes are as close as you can get. They don’t contain any chemicals which can irritate a baby’s skin. In fact they contain only 2 ingredients; a drop of fruit extract and 99.9% water. Compared to cotton wool, WaterWipes have the advantage that you can use them straight away, and they’ll be more effective at cleaning. However, they are considerably more expensive. In the end, both options are fine, but if you’re trying to choose between the two, cost might be the biggest factor to consider.

Is cotton wool environmentally friendly?

Unfortunately cotton wool isn’t environmentally friendly, despite cotton being a natural occurring product in nature. This is because it takes a lot of resources to produce, around 20,000 litres of water for just 1kg of cotton. Also, a lot of insecticides and pesticides are used to produce it. In fact, 24% of insecticides worldwide are used in cotton production. Furthermore, you shouldn’t flush it down the toilet as it can cause blockages.

Should you use cotton wool or pads for a newborn?

Although they are a bit more expensive, you should find pads more effective at cleaning than ordinary cotton wool balls.

How long should you use cotton wool on a newborn?

Although you should be ok using wipes on a newborn baby, most doctors recommend waiting to when they around 1 month old. A newborn baby’s skin is very sensitive and some baby wipes contain ingredients that can cause a reaction. Therefore use cotton wool or pads for the first month and then switch to wipes after that.

What’s the difference between water wipes and baby wipes?

The main difference is the water content. Some water wipes contain 99.9% water and just a hint of some fruit extract, making them perfect for babies with sensitive skin, with no harmful chemicals which can trigger a reaction. However, they are slightly more expensive than ordinary baby wipes.

Can you use water wipes on a newborn?

Yes, as they don’t contain any chemicals, water wipes are fine to use from birth for babies with even the most sensitive skin.

Do water wipes actually clean?

The issue with water wipes is that they don’t contain any ingredients which can kill germs. This is because any germ-killing chemicals you could add to a baby wipe can be harsh on a newborn’s skin and cause an adverse reaction. If you really want to clean your baby when you’re doing a diaper change, use soap and water. Just make sure to wash yours and your baby’s hands afterwards.

Can you use water wipes on a baby’s face?

Water wipes are fine to use on a baby’s face as they are gentle on the skin. They only contain water and some fruit extract so there are no harsh chemicals which you’re putting near your baby’s mouth.

Can baby wipes be used as hand wipes?

You can use baby wipes as hand wipes. However, just be aware that they are not as effective at properly cleaning your hands as using soap and warm water.

What wipes to use on a newborn?

For a newborn’s delicate and sensitive skin, you’ll want to use wipes which don’t contain any chemicals, and consist only of natural ingredients. WaterWipes are one of the best options for this. Alternatively some of the leading brands such as Pampers and Huggies have wipes which use more natural ingredients and are gentler on newborn skin.

Why you shouldn’t use baby wipes

Although there are baby wipes which are chemical-free, often it can be hard to know if they are ok to use on your baby’s skin, especially if their skin irritates easily. Then there’s the environmental impact of baby wipes. Most aren’t biodegradable and unfortunately they end up on landfill. Worse still, you can find many clogging up sewer systems and ending up in the oceans as some people flush them down the toilet. A lot of baby wipes contain plastic which won’t break down.

The UK uses an astonishing 11 billion wet wipes every year!

Can you get reusable baby wipes?

Yes, you can buy reusable baby wipes. Usually they are made from cotton or bamboo. Cheeky Wipes have a great collection of washable baby wipes; some for the hands and face, and others for hands, bum and face.

How do you use them?

You just use them as you would an ordinary baby wipe, although you’ll probably want to wet them first as this will make them more effective at removing any baby poop or muck. Ordinary water is just fine for this. Then once you’ve finished, just chuck them in a nappy bin.

How do you clean them?

Once your nappy bin is getting quite full with reusable baby wipes, just place them in a washing machine and wash between 30-60c (although check the instructions first). You can add them with any dirty towels or bedding.          

What wipes are best for the environment?

The best wipes are ones which are biodegradable and don’t contain any plastic. Fortunately, there are a number of different options available on the market. Mum & You have some compostable baby wipes which have some excellent customer reviews on Amazon. They are available in packs of 56. 

Pros and cons of using baby wipes or babies

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of baby wipes:


  • Convenient – ready to use right away.


  • Expensive
  • Not environmentally friendly (although you can get biodegradable baby wipes, and even reusable ones)
  • Contain chemicals which can irritate a baby’s skin (although you can purchase WaterWipes and other wipes which cater to sensitive skin)

Pros and cons of cotton wool for babies

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using cotton wool to clean babies:


  • Cheap – cotton wool and water is a considerable cheaper option than buying baby wipes.


  • Not environmentally friendly either due to the manufacturing process. Some cotton wool products contain plastic which isn’t biodegradable.
  • Not as effective as cleaning as a baby wipe. It takes longer to clean a baby with just cotton wool and water.
baby wipes vs cotton wool
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