In hot, sticky weather, it's more than nice to have a refreshing wipe on hand. Say you've walked seven blocks to an interview or a tryst, and you want to clean the soot and stuff from your face, and freshen up, you know, elsewhere. Or you've had to hold a slimy subway pole, or the train, bus, plane or service station bathroom lacks running water and soap. Yet you've heard, correctly, that some portable wipes are more like portasans, due to the chemicals saturating them. What can you do to get truly clean in transit?

* For fighting germs, take a pass on products that contain triclosan, a pesticide used in antibacterial handsoaps and implicated in the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Plus, a study announced last August found that triclosan is no more effective against germs than washing with plain soap and water. And this month the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a study about the hormonal and developmental risks of triclosan, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved for use in many products, from toothpaste to hand soaps.

Ethyl alcohol-based wipes and cleansing gels, both of which are made by Purell and various store brands, are  safer antimicrobials and just as effective against germs.

*For general cleansing and refreshing, choose products free of synthetic fragrance, which usually indicateds the presence of hormone-disrupting phthalates. Instead, choose products based on organic essential oils, such as: Desert Essence wipes with tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant, are a bit strong for facial skin, but great cleansers for hands. Plus, DE uses organic essential plant oils, a plus for the environment, too. No petrochemicals or phthalates in their wipes containing lavender, orange, or wildcrafted rosewood or lemongrass oils. Herban Essentials' towelettes have oils of lemon, eucalyptus, lavender or peppermint.

* DIY your own toilette kits. Instead of disposable wipes, make your own reusable towelettes. You can use an organic cotton handkerchief moistened with a diluted organic plant oil soap such as Dr. Bronner’s new certified organic ones, or Burt's Bees rosewater toner. You could also use organic cotton cosmetic puffs or squares from Organic Essentials, or recycled paper towels by 7th Generation. Keep towelettes moist in a non-leaching, #5 reusable Glad sandwich or freezer bag. Note: As a precaution, you may want to not use products with lavender or tea tree oil on babies, because they've been connected in preliminary research with enhanced breast growth in boys, which, however, reverts to normal once the exposure stops. It's worth remembering that even some pure plant oils can have unwelcome side effects, or, in the case of citrus, irritating or allergenic to sensitive skin.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008. The story was added to

Copyright Environ Press 2008