Do those natural antibacterial wipes really kill germs?

Cleaning wipes made with plant-based antimicrobials like essential oils work—as long as you use them properly. Though there isn't too much research on this topic, one study from 2008 compared how natural and chemical cleaning wipes fared against a germy surface and found that the natural ones removed more bacteria, while the harsher disinfectant wipes were better at killing the bacteria they did pick up. This means that you'll de-germ the counter just fine with a gentler wipe, but if you then use the same wipe to clean the fridge door and the stove, say, you could actually spread the bugs around.

Whatever you use, follow package directions; even traditional products recommend "pre-cleaning," or giving the surface a rubdown with a soapy sponge first, then soaking the surface with the wipe before letting it air-dry for four minutes. That said, don't stress over achieving hospital-level cleanliness: Grime reduction by any means will help stop the transfer of germs that can make you sick.

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Health's medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.