Manufacturers face supply shortages, struggle to meet skyrocketing demand for disinfecting wipes

Sales of disinfecting wipes are up 75% since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to Nielsen, but those numbers would be even higher if it weren't for widespread shortages.

Heather Lenox of the Milwaukee Mom blog is about to send four kids back to school. Their classroom school supplies lists include Clorox wipes -- but tracking them down is a team effort.

"In our neighborhood, we have a really good network of friends who will just send out a text, like this morning we got a text, 'Hey, Clorox wipes at Meijer,'" Lenox said.

Clorox said its demand has increased six-fold during the pandemic, and store shelves won't be fully stocked until 2021.

On Friday, Contact 6 visited six retailers -- and found disinfecting wipes at just one. Even then, the shelves were almost empty and only one container could be bought.

Communities have grown accustomed to various shortages during the pandemic, but why have some items returned to the shelves while wipes haven't?

"You are a lower priority than an essential industry, a hospital, a restaurant," said Doug Fisher, former director of Marquette University's Center for Supply Chain Management.

Manufacturing simply wasn't in place to meet the skyrocketing demand for disinfecting wipes, Fisher said: "You are not going to add a factory in short order, it can take years to add a factory."

Rebel Converting in Saukville has doubled the time it spends making hospital-grade wipes. Its owner wants to increase production even more, but doing so comes with delays of its own.

"The wait time for the equipment we've ordered since COVID, we're really not expecting to be up and online until 2022," said Mike Kryshak, owner of Rebel Converting.

Disinfecting wipes production at Rebel Converting in Saukville

Then, there are supply shortages, particularly with the fabric for wipes, also used in masks.

"I have the amount that I need to send back with my kids to school," Lenox said.

Lenox rarely uses wipes anymore, opting for water and bleach instead, saying she knows one place that needs them more.

"I want to do my part to make sure the schools are safe," said Lenox.

Not all disinfecting wipes are equally effective in preventing COVID-19. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a list of products that meet its criteria -- CLICK HERE.