Image of a tub of baby wipes

The Best Eco-Friendly Baby Wipes

Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” baby wipes, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.

The baby wipes market is a $5.64 billion global industry that’s projected to grow by another billion dollars in the next 5 years. That’s a lot of clean baby bums! 


Baby wipes are a single-use product, so it’s no wonder that these items are becoming a major waste problem…especially because they’re easy to improperly dispose of. Let’s get this out of the way: baby wipes should never be flushed down the toilet. You should also know that around 90% of wet wipes are comprised of nonwoven materials (like polypropylene or polyester) in addition to a whole host of other additives that can be harmful to your baby and the planet. 




Unfortunately, the cloth part of most baby wipes is made of plastic-based materials like polypropylene. This is one of the most widely-produced commodity plastics because it’s sturdier, which means it’s also not as easily recyclable as some other plastics. Our issue with polypropylene is that since it’s a plastic, it’s derived from petroleum, aka crude oil. We extract it from the earth’s crust by drilling and fracking, which have a host of negative environmental consequences (*cough*, oil spills, *cough*) that are not infrequent and can devastate already fragile wildlife populations. The environmental effects of drilling overwhelmingly impact people of color and low-income folks, who are more likely to live in communities near these sites. If you’re using disposable baby wipes, it will be tricky to avoid plastic-based cloth. To avoid this material, you could always use reusable cloths to wipe your baby’s bottom, but then you’ll need to be wary of the associated emissions that come from washing those cloths. If you’re sticking with single-use baby wipes and want to reduce their ecological impact, then make sure they don’t contain the ingredients below. 


The most elusive ingredient of all in baby wipes might be fragrances. That’s because fragrances are protected from disclosure. While “fragrance” might appear to be one ingredient on the label, that word could potentially comprise hundreds of chemical compounds just for one scent! It’s not the scent that worries us, but phthalates, which enable fragrances to become soluble. They are known endocrine disruptors in both humans and aquatic life and can even lower the production of testosterone. Studies have found that prenatal exposure to phthalates can decrease mental and motor development in children. Who needs fragrances anyways when that natural baby smell is already so delightful? Our advice is to protect your children from unnecessary harm and look for baby wipes that are fragrance-free and phthalate-free. 


Parabens are cheap preservatives that are used to prevent the growth of mold and harmful bacteria. They have been associated with endocrine disruption in humans, and certain kinds can kill coral, even at low levels of exposure. After a 2004 study concluded that the presence of parabens may spur the growth of breast cancer cells, the public backlash led some cosmetic companies to start removing parabens from their products. However, additional studies of the effect of parabens on our health have proved inconclusive, and the FDA currently approves the use of parabens in cosmetic products. We recommend avoiding them (and luckily many baby wipes are paraben-free). 


Sulfates, like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS), are emulsifying cleaning agents used to break down and wash away the dirt and grime that water can’t get rid of on its own. They also happen to be highly toxic threats to aquatic life, from algae to frogs to fish. Although there is some debate on sulfates, the World Health Organization (WHO) unequivocally states that SLS “ toxic to aquatic organisms. It is strongly advised not to let the chemical enter into the environment.” Take our advice, and the WHO’s, and try to avoid baby wipes that contain these harmful ingredients.


When we’re in a bind or overwhelmed by greenwashy-messaging, certifications can help us make choices that keep the environment and social good in mind. Here are some certifications to look out for on baby wipes.

Leaping Bunny Certification

Leaping Bunny

Leaping Bunny is an internationally recognized symbol that guarantees no new animal tests were conducted on any of the ingredients in a product. It’s the most stringent animal rights standard, so prioritize this one if you want to alleviate your animal welfare concerns.

EWG Verified Certification


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit and its label ensures products are free from chemicals of concern to human health that are outlined in their unacceptable list. The EWG verifies products using data on ingredients and chemicals banned by governments, or known carcinogens and developmental toxins. Because companies have to pay for the verification, there is inherent bias… but they do source their ingredients data from reputable sources. In Finch’s scoring system, we look at their ingredient data rather than companies certified by the EWG.


It pains us to say this, but the trash bin is the safest place for baby wipes to go after being used. Wipes that get flushed down the toilet can  clog, damage, and destroy wastewater equipment and municipal sewer systems. The wipes cluster with congealed food fat to form large blockages, known as fatbergs. Fatbergs are a combination of non-biodegradable solids (like baby wipes) and fat (like bacon grease or other foods) that end up in our pipes and cause serious problems. Fatbergs each cost thousands of dollars to remove...which often falls to taxpayers. In New York in 2018, the removal of fatbergs cost more than $18 million.

Be skeptical of any “flushable” or “septic-safe” labels, which are misleading marketing techniques and not backed up by any specific regulations. Since most baby wipes are made from plastics, they will never fully break down and will instead continue to terrorize the planet in the form of microplastics. These plastic particles are less than 5 millimeters in size and can end up in our oceans via wastewater treatment systems across America. From there, these microplastics can pollute our oceans and eventually disrupt the digestion of marine animals.

As an alternative, you could try using washable cloth baby wipes with baby-safe soap to reduce waste, but it’s not necessarily a silver bullet. Washable cloths still need to be washed after one use, so the energy-associated emissions that come from machine washing and drying cloths could be significant.


We really can’t understate it enough: do not flush baby wipes down the toilet. Properly disposing of used baby wipes is the best way to help the environment. If you want to do one better, avoid wipes made with fragrances, parabens, and sulfates. While we haven’t done the math to determine the environmental impact of washing reusable cloths, that is always an option if you’re looking to cut down on plastic and landfill waste. 


“What kind of baby wipes are the most sustainable?”

While there’s really no such thing as “sustainable” baby wipes because they’re usually made from petroleum-derived plastic, we came up with this list of more sustainable baby wipes based on what else they’re made of.

“Are there any biodegradable baby wipes?”

While many wipes may claim to be biodegradable, most of them are not, or their claims are a bit misleading. In order to truly biodegrade, the wipes would need to decompose under certain conditions and temperatures, which most wastewater treatment systems do not accommodate. If you’re looking at wipes labeled biodegradable and think that you’ve found a flushable loophole, we’re sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s just a pipe dream. 

“Which baby wipes do not contain plastic?”

Less than 20% of baby wipes claim to be biodegradable, and are likely made from non-plastic based materials. While most baby wipes use polypropylene cloths, ones that avoid plastic will use materials such as organic cotton, viscose rayon, wood pulp, and/or bamboo. These materials will still take time to decompose and will release methane in the process, which could be potentially more emissions-intensive at their end-of-life than plastic-based wipes.