do Norwex cloths really safely clean with just water?
February 12, 2015 6:43 AM   Subscribe

It is safe to take my baby to a playspace that is using just Norwex cloths and water to clean?

I was planning to take my 1 year old baby to a local "play cafe" until I saw a post on their Facebook page that said this:

"Each night, we clean and sanitize ALL of the soft toys that have been used throughout the day and the entire Play Structure.

We used to use a green cleaning fluid with our white cloths, but now have recently invested in some Norwex Microfiber cloths that attract dirt and hold up to seven times their weight in matter.

In addition, these cloths have MicroSilver woven in to purify and sanitize. It needs only to be damp with water to work. The cloths are then rinsed out and hung to dry.

Each morning we also go through the Play Structure testing webbing and screw tightness, look for gaps and wear, address any concerns right away, and indicate this in a daily log.

As a matter of course, we also nightly vacuum, clean bathrooms, sweep a mop everywhere, etc, etc..but you probably figured that.

Now if only my house were so lucky...."

The word MicroSilver set off my BS alarm and googled and found the results flooded with the same sketchy-looking info over and over.

I posted to the cafe that I was concerned and urged them to read the only thing I could find that didn't seem to be put out by Norwex or its sales reps, this thread :

Their response was ”XXX is our rep with Norwex and does a great job explaining why these products are so much safer for families and the environment. It's pretty incredible the depth of cleaning that can be done chemical-free with these quality cloths, etc. Feel free to friend and message her for questions."

I'm pretty sure the rep would just repeat the selling points on this page:

I'm thinking that cleaning is not the same thing as disinfecting. These cloths might be ok for home use but for a high-traffic environment like a play cafe, I was assuming they would use bleach when necessary.

Do Norwex cloths work as they claim? Would you take your baby to play at this playspace?
posted by octarine to Science & Nature (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would only take my baby there if I had unlimited sick days and a high tolerance for sleepless nights. So no. Their cleaning methods seem designed to spread germs around. Parents bring sick bored kids to playspaces all the time. They're filthy.

That said, since they're usually filthy anyway...if you're really dying of boredom I wouldn't judge you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:59 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

While there's plenty of evidence that integrating silver into the surfaces of products helps to sanitize them, the santizing effect doesn't extend to things they touch in any significant way.

One would need to electrolytically dissolve silver into a solution in water to achieve the affect the play space is intending here. Even then, I'm not sure it would be most effective disinfectant, as adding silver to water is generally used as a means to keep the water itself potable, rather than to transform it into a cleaning agent.
posted by BrandonW at 7:02 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

There is very little chance that a cloth with some silver thread will adequately disinfect a surface. One small study on the use of silver thread in uniforms ("Pilot study on the microbial contamination of conventional vs. silver-impregnated uniforms worn by ambulance personnel during one week of emergency medical service") showed that silver thread didn't make a difference with regards to the contamination even on the cloth itself. I would want much more evidence that it worked (or really, any evidence at all) before relying on it.

I would probably view this as both the tip of the iceberg in terms of unsanitary practices and also a dog whistle that will attract people who are less likely to vaccinate their kids or engage in irresponsible "alternative" vaccine schedules.

I would also be cautious about assuming that other similar environments are substantively better.
posted by grouse at 7:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [20 favorites]

From my POV the point of the silver infused cloth is to keep it from growing mold and crud when it's wet for a long time, like what happens to most kitchen towels and sponges. (Y'all do change those out regularly, right?)

That said, I wouldn't be afraid of it, but the big picture is that it's really not doing anything to disinfect the play surfaces. I can wipe a wet silver bar across a table and the table won't be magically disinfected.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:05 AM on February 12, 2015

Argh. My first question and a typo. I meant is it safe, not it is safe.

If anyone can add what WOULD be an effective disinfectant in this case, that would be helpful as well. Thanks!
posted by octarine at 7:06 AM on February 12, 2015

posted by grouse at 7:08 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Just wanted to emphasize what grouse said:
the tip of the iceberg in terms of unsanitary practices and also a dog whistle that will attract people who are less likely to vaccinate their kids
posted by easily confused at 7:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

I believe hydrogen peroxide would also work. Things like norovirus are really hard to kill.

For what it's worth, it's entirely possible the cleaner they were using before wasn't doing much to disinfect either. They are at least wiping up the large chunks of filth, presumably, with the cloths; if there was actual snot and drool on the equipment, that would be worse.
posted by mskyle at 7:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

At the kid's museum I'm familiar with, the play space for the youngest children is cleaned nightly with hospital-grade disinfectant, as are any other trouble spots.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

The thing about these as well is that they are sold - as your probably saw - in a multi level marketing fashion. So their rep is likely just a regular joe that sells them, not someone from the company. I'd be concerned that a play place was buying supplies like this rather than through a traditional cleaning supply service. There are plenty of green cleaning suppliers that actually do the job. Source: a Facebook friend sold them and I certainly didn't trust that she knew anything she was talking about other than what selling materials are provided.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:21 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

'Chemical-free' (apart from water! and silver! and whatever's in the cloth!) Norwex sounds like woo nonsense, but to be honest, all the disinfectant in the world isn't going to prevent the usual plague of colds and minor illnesses spreading among a play group of young children. They have no concept of personal space, they grab each other, they breathe out airborne illnesses.

So personally, I wouldn't put any stock in Norwex but I probably wouldn't rule out the play cafe on that basis either, unless there's an outbreak of something particularly nasty in your local area - even decent, effective disinfectant will only get you so far. I would probably avoid the bathrooms and any kitchen where food was prepared, though, and I would be seriously worried about what other multi-level marketed nonsense the place might be buying into when it comes to health and safety.
posted by Catseye at 7:23 AM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

The daycare I worked at used hospital Lysol on everything except toys. Toys were soaked in some sort of biological sanitizer three times a day.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:24 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Someone asked about using green cleaners at our daycare. The director told us that they are mandated by (Illinois) state regulations to use bleach for surface and a non-bleach sanitizer/disinfectant for toys. Most states require this (at different levels and concentrations) for daycare/homecare.

Playplaces -- well, that's a different story.
posted by hmo at 7:37 AM on February 12, 2015

As some anecdata, my woo-enthusiast mother has a bunch of these Norwex cloths and never seems to understand why she can't get her kitchen table as clean as when the cleaning lady visits with her standard bottle of Windex. Still, she insists all you need is water and the magical silver fibers. :-(
posted by Diagonalize at 8:00 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nobody comes and disinfects the play equipment at your local park, just as a comparison.

Does it look and smell clean inside? The children's museum near us is pretty grimey/smelly so I avoid it, other play spaces vary. I definitely judge general cleanliness by eye, but I don't expect anything child related from parks to play spaces to be sanitized for germs. How would that work during play time? Dip all children in hand sanitizer and have them wear hospital masks?

Anyway, How are the bathrooms at this place? If the bathrooms are pristine, that's a good sign.

Please do pass on to this establishment the information about the experiment with silver threads in paramedic uniforms. Do it nicely. It sounds like they meant well and got scammed.
posted by jbenben at 8:02 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd be inclined to look at daycare standards as the gold standard. I'm not personally familiar with play spaces, but as someone who has worked in a day care - play spaces should be washing surfaces more often than just at night. With a bleach solution.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:20 AM on February 12, 2015

While no place can or should be germ free, this just sounds really terrible.

And the very first thought I had was, "Well, there's a dog whistle for all the anti-vax jerks." So Grouse and I are on the same page there.

There are other play spaces. Hell, I'd be more inclined to hit the McDonalds. (and that thing is DISGUSTING!)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:24 AM on February 12, 2015

1) Sounds scammy, and silver threads are not a known disinfectant. I also agree with the commenters who say this cafe will likely attract clientele who don't vaccinate their kids-- or disinfect their homes.

2) Even with known disinfectants, a "play cafe" is never ever going to be sanitary environment. Even if they bathe each surface in boiling bleach overnight, if five seconds ago Lil Snotty Johnny gripped every surface with his lil snotty hands and then your kid plays there, the nightly bleach-down isn't going to matter.

So if a sanitary environment is important to you, veer away from play cafes in general. But if your kid is not immuno-compromised then a play cafe is a fun idea, and I think there are degrees of grossness. Given the choice between a place that takes sanitizing more seriously and a place that seems to have fallen for a cuckoo scam, I'd go with the former.

Also, it SOOORT of sounds like they are actually trying to sell you the product! Directing you to a sales rep's page instead of addressing your concerns? Yuck.

Not to knock "green" cleaning, but there are some environments where it's just not appropriate.
posted by kapers at 8:33 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Directing you to a sales rep's page instead of addressing your concerns? Yuck.

MLM. I'll bet you.
posted by aramaic at 10:18 AM on February 12, 2015

I was surprised at the amount of support their post had. I guess a lot of people sell Norwex, or know someone who does.

I won't be taking my child there as long as this is their cleaning policy. It's a bummer, it looks like a fun place.

I was wondering, if they are convinced that all chemicals are bad, would steam work to sanitize their toys/environment?
posted by octarine at 12:37 PM on February 12, 2015

I would probably view this as both the tip of the iceberg in terms of unsanitary practices and also a dog whistle that will attract people who are less likely to vaccinate their kids or engage in irresponsible "alternative" vaccine schedules.

I realize this has been quoted already, but as someone who grew up with/around woo-happy homeschoolers and crystal wearing Birkenstock moms this is utterly true.

As close as I can come to guaranteeing without knowing or seeing the place, there just has to be a lot of other stupid shit like this going on. I'd totally run away from a place like this. Even church after school programs have higher standards.

This appeals to a specific type of antivaxer homepathic sort of person and... NOPE.
posted by emptythought at 12:38 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

And would the sun disinfect the local park?

I'm not really a germaphobe, just curious now...
posted by octarine at 12:41 PM on February 12, 2015

would steam work to sanitize their toys/environment?

Like a commercial steam cleaner? No. A medical autoclave that provides pressurized, superheated steam for an extended period of time? Sure.

And would the sun disinfect the local park?

posted by grouse at 2:22 PM on February 12, 2015

Someone I know went to a Norwex party, where the host did a demo by using a "bacteria-detecting dye" on the counter, which, according to my friend, turned purple. The host then wiped the counter down with a damp Norwex cloth, and tested the counter again, and the "bacteria detecting dye" did not turn purple.

I asked, "Did she do the same thing with a plain cloth or sponge?"

She said, "No, why?"

I said, "Then how do you know you couldn't get the same effect by wiping it with almost anything?"

"Hmm," she said, "I wonder why she didn't do that."

(My acquaintances never invite me to these parties. I can't figure out why.)

I'll give even odds that the "bacteria-detecting dye" was iodine and suspect that the counter was prepped by spraying it with starch. I'll give even better odds that the host had no freaking clue what she was doing, and thought she was giving a valid demonstration of Norwex's amazing powers.
posted by BrashTech at 3:02 PM on February 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

By sanitize I mean reduce germs, not sterilize/eliminate germs. I don't expect a germ-free environment, but I guess I have some thinking to do about where I will let the little guy play.

Thanks to everyone who answered. I shared this link with the playspace owners but they replied:

"This article may be helpful in explaining the ability of microfiber: The microfiber does the cleaning/sanitizing of the surface, the silver prevents mold and fungus on the cloth itself."

At the end of the page it says that article was written by...

”Mark Hoyle is a senior product manager for Rubbermaid Commercial Products, LLC. As a member of the Microfiber Cleaning Group, he has been instrumental in the development and marketing of innovative microfiber cleaning products."

So I bought a little thing for the kid to climb on at home.
posted by octarine at 4:22 PM on February 12, 2015

This looks like a good summary of how to clean, disinfect, and/or sanitize things in a school setting in order to slow the spread of disease, from the CDC. Even just the definitions are pretty helpful:
Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.
posted by flug at 6:03 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

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