A Throw-Away Lesson

Recently, Kimberly-Clark launched its newest Kleenex-brand product: disposable hand towels for the home.  On its website promoting the new throw-away paper towels, Kleenex helpfully offers these “hand drying facts”, attributed to the Center for Disease Control:

     

  • Even if a hand towel is not visibly dirty, it does not mean it is clean.
  • Regular washing of bathroom hand towels does not ensure clean hands.
  • One-time use towels have been shown to be more hygienic.
  • Hand drying with disposable towels can help prevent the spread of germs.

I find the manner of use of these ‘facts’, including their incompleteness, lack of context, and attribution, disingenuous.

For example, without actually saying so, with the first ‘fact’ Kleenex manages to imply that your hand towel is probably dirty. This sets the stage – your mind – for the second ‘fact’.  Of course, we know washing of hand towels doesn’t ensure clean hands. Proper hand-washing does, provided a clean towel is used to dry them.  But having suggested that your hand towel might be dirty, Kleenex is now poised to convince you that you need a disposable hand towel “to make sure your hands are as clean as you want them to be.”  The last two ‘facts’ are intended to convince the consumer that home-laundered towels are not only not clean enough, they’re unhygienic.

Attributing these facts to the CDC gives them – and the inferences one might naturally draw from them – more credibility. However, Kleenex doesn’t provide a link to the CDC studies from which they drew the above ‘facts’ (although they provide a link to the CDC’s hand-washing guidelines).  So the reader can’t easily discover, for example, whether the CDC found the one-time use towels to be more hygienic than a clean home-laundered towel or, say, one’s pant leg or a dirty rag.

In short, there’s nothing in these ‘facts’ that proves that drying your hands with a disposable tissue is better for your health than using a clean cloth towel.  It’s no surprise that there’s also no life-cycle comparison that shows using a disposable paper towel is better for your wallet or the environment.

Had the product been developed and marketed to meet a specific need, for which laundered cloth towels are unsuitable, it might be more palatable.  Instead, the manipulative advertising that plays upon our fears of illness will leave a long-lasting, negative impression.

That Kleenex hand towels may be made in compliance with Kimberly-Clark’s efforts towards responsible fiber use, environmental improvements to packaging, and reduced carbon emissions and water use is little comfort.

Just because you can make a (new) product, doesn’t mean you should.

  1. Apparently someone contacted the CDC and didn’t receive any support for Kleenex’s view of hygiene. http://goodgreenwitch.blogspot.com/2010/04/whats-next-disposable-bath-towels.html

    wasteful germ-o-phobia.

    • Bruce
    • December 17th, 2011

    Brian,
    Really? I’m looking to buy a paper towel dispenser EXACTLY like the Kleenex one. I have a ton of people coming and I want everyone to dry their hands on a clean towel….maybe I’ll put a stack of forty hand towels in the bathroom and stay by the door the whole day monitoring which cloth hand towel is still clean…Jeez!
    Bruce

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