Wipers generally fall into two categories: textiles (including rags and rental shop towels) and disposables (including paper-based and non-woven).

RAGS:Rags are typically clothing remnants with classifications such as mixed colors, whites, #1 whites and cotton diapers, and they are generally sold by the pound. Rags can vary widely in quality, size and composition. They are not engineered for wiping purposes and some rags, such as 100-percent synthetic fibers and/or synthetic rich blends, may have poor absorbency.

RENTAL SHOP TOWELS: These cloth towels are wipers made from woven textiles that are laundered by an off-site facility. They are considered relatively strong. But they are not specifically engineered for particular tasks.

Rental shop towels, even after laundering, may pose certain risks. According to an independent study conducted by the Gradient Corporation, “clean” shop towel samples tested contained oil and grease and many contained elevated levels of heavy metals such as lead.

Shop towels are used countless times every day to wipe away sweat and grime from dirty hands or a sweaty brow, as well as to wipe up messes. The study also showed how elevated levels of heavy metals on shop towels can get onto hands and then inadvertently into the mouth, where they might be ingested.

These shop towels can also come into contact with the lips when towels are used to wipe the face. Some industry watchers — responding to the study — voiced concerns that toxic elements on these towels could be transferred to workers’ homes and families if towels were taken home (a not uncommon scenario), or if the toxic elements were otherwise transferred from the workers’ skin, clothing or tools.

In addition to being a potential health and safety issue for workers, reusable laundered shop towels are also responsible for 30 percent more landfilled solid waste than their disposable counterparts, and are responsible for as much as 95 percent of organic, inorganic and metal contaminants in the wastewater of industrial laundries.

DISPOSABLE WIPERS can be engineered to feel like cloth and are manufactured to a consistent size and shape. Disposable wipers are engineered for specific tasks. For example, a reusable, microfiber cloth with antimicrobial protection can help prevent cross-contamination and inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria; a wiper bonded with water jets to form an extra-strong nonwoven fabric is highly absorbent as well as strong and durable. Disposable wipers are available in a variety of strengths, thicknesses and sizes and can be selected according to criteria such as absorbency, solvent-resistance, purity, low level of particulates (such as lint) or a combination of these and other factors.

Some disposable wipers offer a zero-landfill option in which waste is converted to energy through incineration. This is done via a disposal service that picks up used wipers and then transports them to a waste-to- energy facility for energy recovery. These disposal services can also handle the safe disposal of used wipers in a landfill.

Disposable wipers offer ease of use due to a variety of packaging and dispensing systems. Dispenser options include: boxes, roll dispensers, portable buckets, center-flow dispensers, canisters, quarter-fold and bulk packs.

Dispensers can protect wipers from liquids, dust and other kinds of contaminants. They can also provide controlled dispensing to help reduce waste. High-capacity roll dispensers need to be refilled less frequently. Enclosed wet-wiping systems help avoid contamination of wipers and cleaning solutions and also reduce exposure to chemical vapors and splashes.

Wiping products are available for surfaces, equipment and personal care in virtually every workplace setting, so it’s easy to find a wiper engineered for a specific task and a specific work environment. By matching the right base sheet technology and dispensing option to each task, you can help to optimize your wiper costs, improve productivity and reap a host of other benefits as well. And when the time comes to dispose of these wipers, safe options are available via companies that specialize in solving waste and disposal issues for businesses.