Which cleaning cloth removes germs the best?
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I have had so many requests to test and compare cleaning cloths to find out which cloths remove germs the best. So, I tested them on my dirty kitchen floor. Thanks to my children, all the neighbor kids, and our big dog, Luke, my kitchen floor is always dirty and ready to be tested. I tested Norwex, e-cloth, Polly Cloth, Doc Cloth, cotton cloths, Handi Wipes, Scotch Brite Microfiber, Clorox wipes, Basic H2 wipes, and Kirkland paper towel.
First, I vacuumed my kitchen floor to remove debris and dog hair. Then I used masking tape to make 1-foot squares on my dirty kitchen floor. I labeled the squares with the names of the cloths.
For most of the experiments, I just used my normally dirty floor. However, for some of the experiments, I made the floor extra dirty. To do this, I made some dirty water using a scoop of mud from the back yard and mixed it in tap water. I filtered it through paper towel to remove chunks. I put 2mL of the dirty water onto each square, rubbed it around, and let it dry. I labeled the results of these experiments "extra dirty floor".
Then I got a sterile swab wet with filtered tap water, and I swabbed all the dirty "before" squares with sterile swabs.
Next I got the cloth wet in warm 90 degree F water (not at all hot) and rung it out tightly. I tried to fold the cloths into approximately the same sized squares.
Then I wiped the appropriate square with the cloth. I made 5 passes up and down. Then I flipped the cloth to a clean side and made 5 passes side to side.
Then I wet a new sterile swab with filtered tap water and swabbed the clean square.
I rubbed the swab onto a clean agar plate.
I incubated the agar plates in my warm incubator (about 90 degrees F) for 48 hours and took pictures of them. I repeated this experiment many times.
In case you are new to looking at agar plates, let me explain. The whitish/yellowish dots on the plates are colonies (or piles) of millions of bacteria. Not all types of bacteria can grow on these agar plates. Viruses can NOT grow on these agar plates. Yeast, mold, and fungus CAN also grow on these plates. In general, the more colonies that grow on the plate, the more germs there were on the surface that was swabbed. However, a clean agar plate does not necessarily mean that no germs whatsoever were present on the surface because not everything can grow on an agar plate.
The results have some variation. There is variation in how dirty each section of my floor was. I tried to wipe at the same speed and use the same pressure but there could have been some variation with that. I repeated the experiment many times to be certain of the results.
Every time I did this experiment, I took a swab of the tap water that I used to wet the cloths and swabs in my experiment and let that grow on an agar plate. As expected, nothing grew.
New Norwex EnviroCloth
For these experiments, I used a new Norwex Envirocloth that I purchased from Norwex. Norwex are microfiber cloths. I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle in the washer with Norwex laundry detergent before each experiment. Norwex products are only available through independent consultants. I do not sell Norwex.
New Norwex on normally dirty floor
New Norwex on extra dirty floor
As you can see, the Norwex cloth did a great job removing germs off my kitchen floor!
Old Norwex EnviroCloth
For these experiments, I used an old Norwex cloth that I have had for years. It has been washed countless times on hot with chlorine bleach (which goes against Norwex rules). I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex detergent (and no bleach) before each experiment.
Old Norwex on normally dirty floor
Old Norwex on extra dirty floor
As you can see, the old Norwex cloth still did a good job removing germs off the kitchen floor even though it suffered years of abuse. Again, I don't sell Norwex products and they are only available through independent consultants..
which are also microfiber cloths. I used the same cloth for each experiment and washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex detergent before each experiment.
New e-cloth on normally dirty floor
New e-cloth on extra dirty floor
As you can see, the e-cloth did a great job removing germs off the kitchen floor! I honestly can't tell which is better, a Norwex or an e-cloth. They both seem great.
For these experiments, I used an e-cloth that I have had for years. It had been washed countless times on hot with chlorine bleach. I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex laundry detergent (and no bleach) before each experiment.
Old e-cloth on normally dirty floor
Old e-cloth on extra dirty floor
The new e-cloth still did a good job removing germs even though it had suffered from years of abuse.
For these experiments, I used a thick, plush 100% cotton washcloth from Target (Threshold brand). I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex laundry detergent before each experiment.
Thick cotton cloth on normally dirty floor
Thick cotton cloth on extra dirty floor
As you can see, the thick cotton cloth did a really good job removing germs from the kitchen floor. Perhaps not quite as good as the Norwex or e-cloth, but almost as good.
Medium Cotton Cloth
For these experiments, I used a 100% cotton washcloth from Walmart (Mainstays brand). I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex detergent before each experiment. I only tested this cloth on the extra dirty floor.
Medium cotton cloth on extra dirty floor
As you can see, the medium cotton cloth did a pretty good job removing germs but not as good as the thicker cotton cloth or the Norwex or e-cloth.
Thin cotton dish cloth
For these experiments, I used a 100% cotton dishcloth from Target that was thinner than the others. I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex laundry detergent before each experiment. I only tested this cloth on the extra dirty floor.
Thin cotton cloth on dirty floor
The thinner cotton dishcloth did surprisingly well picking up germs off the floor.
. Doc cloths are wood fiber cleaning cloths. They are stiff until you get them wet. They cannot be washed in the washing machine and are supposed to be hand washed, so I used a new Doc cloth for most experiments.
Doc cloth on normally dirty floor
Doc cloth on extra dirty floor
The Doc cloth did not do quite as well the thick cotton cloth or the microfiber cloths.
. They do not get washed in the washer, so I used a new one for each experiment. I only tested this cloth on the extra dirty floor.
Handi Wipe on extra dirty floor
As you can see, the Handi wipes are don't pick up germs as well as the thicker cloths, probably because they are thin and slippery.
New Polly Cloth
For these experiments, I used a new Polly cloth sent to me by the owner of the Polly Cloth company. It is a microfiber cloth. I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex laundry detergent before each experiment.
The polly cloth did a great job removing germs from my floor.
Old Polly Cloth
For these experiments, I used a Polly Cloth that I had for a year. It was washed countless times on hot with chlorine bleach. I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex laundry detergent before each experiment.
. I washed it on a hot sanitize cycle with Norwex detergent before each experiment. I only tested it on the extra dirty floor.
The Scotch Brite microfiber cloth also does a great job removing germs from the floor! It is quite inexpensive as well. I don't know if it would hold up for years like the Norwex and e-cloth because I've only had it for a short time.
Kirkland paper towel
For these experiments, I used the Kirkland paper towel that I buy at Costco. I got it slightly wet with tap water.
Paper towel on normally dirty floor
Paper towel on extra dirty floor
The Kirkland paper towel did not do that great, especially on the extra dirty floor. I don't think it is as good as a thick cloth for your everyday wiping off of the kitchen table and countertops. Paper towel is great for cleaning up after raw meat or vomit because you can throw it away. Obviously, don't count on paper towel to remove all germs.
. Of course, I used a new wipe for each experiment.
Clorox wipe on normally dirty floor
Clorox wipe on extra dirty floor
Clorox wipes are slippery and are not as good at picking up dirt and germs as the thick cloths are. When I swabbed the "clean" floor after wiping with the Clorox wipes, the swabs always still looked a little dirty. However, the Clorox wipes applied a layer of cleaning chemical to the floor which killed some germs. The Clorox wipes are still great for cleaning up raw chicken or a dirty toilet because you can throw them away. Just wipe many times and don't count on regular Clorox wipes for killing all germs. If anyone in the house is sick with a stomach bug, clean with 10% chlorine bleach or these special wipes.
* Note: For these experiments, I was specifically testing how well the wipe picked up germs. I was not testing how well the chemical in the wipe killed germs. Of course, the chemical will have killed some of the germs. If I let the chemical sit on the surface longer, it might have killed more germs. However, when I swabbed the surface, the chemical was picked up on the swab along with the bacteria and incubated with the bacteria. So, it did have a lot of time with the bacteria.
Basic H2 Wipe
For these experiments, a website viewer sent me a can of Basic H2 wipes. Of course, I used a clean wipe for each experiment.
These wipes are a little slippery and did not pick up as much dirt off the floor as the cloths did. The swab of the "clean" floor always looked a little dirty. These wipes don't contain any germ-killing chemicals so there were always still plenty of germs left on the "clean" square. Don't depend on these wipes for disinfecting. If you are interesting in any Shaklee products, please contact https://juliesnaturalhealth.myshaklee.com/us/en/.
Cleaning Cloth Conclusions
From all of my testing, I think the microfiber cloths, like Norwex and e-cloth, pick up germs off surfaces better than the other cloths and wipes that I have tested. They also hold up much better than a cotton cloth to countless uses. However, I still recommend cleaning with disposable wipes and/or paper towel when someone is sick with a stomach bug. I like wiping up from raw meat and wiping off toilets with something disposable. This is because getting the germs OUT of the cloths is difficult (see my page on sanitizing a Norwex cloth) . Also, it is okay to use the same cloth all day to wipe off the countertops and table. However, that cloth needs to go into the laundry at night. Get a clean cloth each day. If you use the cloth to wipe up raw meat, it needs to be retired to the laundry right away. You should not wipe up after raw chicken and then wipe off the baby's high chair tray no matter how great you think your cloth is.
Thank you.--Annie Pryor, Ph.D.
Test Results From 2015
My 2018 results are consistent with experiments I did in 2015 which determined that a Norwex cloth was a little better at picking up germs than a Clorox wipe, cotton cloth, and paper towel.
Which picks up more bacteria, a Norwex Cloth, Clorox Wipe, Bounty paper towel, or cotton washcloth?
First, I boiled the cotton washcloth and the Norwex cloth for 10 minutes to make sure that I was starting with sterile cloths. I let them cool fully. Then, I made germ water by taking a scoop of mud from the back yard and mixed it in sterile water. I filtered that through paper towel to remove chunks. Then I scrapped colonies of bacteria off of an agar plate from a previous days "dirty hands" experiment. I mixed it all up. This germ water contained a lot of dirt and bacteria.
I used masking tape to section off squares on my kitchen countertop and put 1mL of the germ water into each square using a sterile 1mL syringe.
Then I rubbed the germ water all around the square and let it completely dry which took about 2 hours.
Once dry, I added .5mL of sterile water to the dirty control square, rubbed it around, and swabbed it with a sterile swab.
I rubbed the swab all around on a sterile agar plate. I also took a swab of the clean control square.
Now for the fun part. After practicing my wiping technique on a different area of the counter, I thoroughly wiped each square with the respective product. These were very dirty squares, and I wiped them 8 times. That means 8 passes. I wiped up and down 4 times, then flipped the cloth over and wiped 4 more times.
I tested the regular Clorox wipe. After wiping 8 times, I swabbed the square and rubbed the swab onto an agar plate. Then I waited 3 minutes because the wipes say they need time for the chemicals to kill the bacteria, and then I swabbed the square again.
I tested Bounty paper towel that I got a little wet with water. After wiping 8 times, I swabbed the square with a sterile swab and rubbed it onto an agar plate.
I tested a cotton washcloth wet with warm tap water and thoroughly wrung out. After wiping 8 times, I swabbed the square and rubbed the swab onto an agar plate.
Then I tested the Norwex Envirocloth. I fully wet the cloth with warm tap water and thoroughly wrung out. After I wiped 8 times, I swabbed the square and rubbed the swab onto an agar plate.
All the plates were incubated overnight in my warm incubator. I did the entire experiment on 2 different days.
As you can see, the Norwex cloths do a darn good job removing bacteria from the countertop. They seem to be better than Clorox wipe in my experiments. The Clorox wipe improved at the 3 minute time point after the chemicals had more time to work. However, the Clorox wipe clearly does not pick up bacteria as well as the Norwex. The cotton washcloth and the wet Bounty paper towel do a pretty good job, too. The Norwex does seem a little better, though. So, if you like to do your cleaning with Norwex and avoid the unnecessary chemicals in a Clorox wipe, go for it. I suggest hand washing them and then boiling them for 10 minutes to sterilize them. I would still recommend cleaning up raw meat, vomit, or diarrhea with paper towel that you can throw away because it is difficult to remove germs from any cloth unless you boil it for 10 minutes.