Using Baby Wipes and Cotton Swabs on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Is it permitted to use baby wipes for cleaning a baby on Shabbos or Yom Tov?

Discussion: When using baby wipes on Shabbos [or Yom Tov], 38 we are concerned with violating the Shabbos Labor of Sechitah, Squeezing.39 If the wipe can be used without Squeezing then it may be used on Shabbos. A baby wipe that is slightly moist and is gently dabbed onto the diaper area would be an example of the permissible use of a baby wipe on Shabbos.

However, a baby wipe that is very moist — and there are numerous types of wipes on the market ranging from very moist to hardly so — would be prohibited from use on Shabbos,40 and indeed, may even be muktzeh, since the slightest pressure applied upon it would cause Sechitah.41 Moreover, pressing any type of baby wipe — even one which is only slightly or moderately moist — against the baby’s skin, and/or scrubbing the diaper area with it may also be forbidden, as such pressure would result in Sechitah.

In actual practice, cleaning a baby who is wet or lightly soiled can generally be accomplished by gently dabbing a wipe on his skin since by doing so he is only using the surface moisture of the wipe, and not the moisture which is absorbed in it. Indeed, one does not want to “squeeze” out any more moisture than necessary so as to eliminate the need to dry off the diaper area before putting on the diaper. When cleaning a baby who is more heavily soiled, however, one normally has to apply pressure to the wipe in order to clean the baby off. This becomes a case of Squeezing and may be forbidden on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

It should be noted that there is an alternative method of cleaning a baby which is permitted on Shabbos according to all views: One may spray or splash water on the desired area and then wipe up the area using a dry paper towel or dry baby wipe.

Question: On Shabbos or Yom Tov, is it permitted to use a cotton swab (Q-tip) to dab hydrogen peroxide, etc., on a cut or an abrasion?

Discussion: Based on the above discussion concerning baby wipes, a strong argument can be made to permit using a cotton swab on Shabbos. Although it is forbidden to soak a cotton ball (or a piece of cotton batting) and then squeeze the liquid out of it,42 this does not necessarily apply to using a swab. The small piece of pressed cotton at the swab’s end is not meant to absorb, nor is the liquid “squeezed” out of it. When used normally, the tip merely transfers the liquid to the cut without any squeezing taking place. It is permitted to be used.43 Obviously, though, this is not always the case as a swab is sometimes used in a manner which would result in squeezing. If so, it would be forbidden to use it on Shabbos.

38. Numerous poskim have grappled with this issue and have rendered various, somewhat contradictory responses to this question. Some poskim, following a more stringent line, have forbidden using baby wipes altogether on Shabbos (see Minchas Yitzchak 10:25), while others tended to be more lenient. For a comprehensive review of the halachic debate, see Shulchan Shelomo 320:22; Children in Halachah, pgs. 205-207; Orchos Shabbos, pgs. 573-576; Minchas Asher 1:14; 2:33.

39. The poskim debate whether or not “squeezing” wipes is a Biblical or a Rabbinic prohibition; see Igros Moshe, O.C. 2:70 and Children in Halachah, pgs. 207-208.

40. It would be permitted, however, to prepare this type of wipes before Shabbos by squeezing out most of the moisture from them.

41. See O.C. 320:16-17.

42. Shemiras Shabbos k’Hilchasah 32:59.

43. Minchas Asher 1:14, disputing the ruling of Orchos Shabbos 13:45 who forbids using cotton swabs on Shabbos.