Are Anti-Viral Tissues Tissues Worth Using?

An anti-viral facial tissues such as the patented Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue are treated with a solution to deactivate cold and flu viruses in your cough, sneeze, or nasal discharge to prevent spreading the virus to others. While these tissues could help with this, there are several real-world-use factors that affect how well they work.

Understanding what these tissues do and don't do can help you make a decision as to whether they are worth the extra cost as compared to plain tissues.

Tissue box and crumpled tissues on white table
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How They Are Different

Kleenex Anti-Viral three-ply facial tissue has a moisture-activated middle layer that's treated with an anti-viral formula that consists of citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate (a surfactant found in many soap and cleansing products).

According to the manufacturer, when cough or sneeze residue hits the middle layer, the tissue begins working immediately, killing nearly all cold and flu viruses it captures.

The packaging for Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues notes which germs it has been tested against. It says that it inactivates 99.9% of rhinoviruses type 1A and 2, influenza A and influenza B, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) within 15 minutes.

Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues are not proven to protect against coronaviruses, which cause 10% to 30% of viral upper respiratory infections.

In the patent application made in 1986, Kimberly-Clark explained that the anti-viral components needed to be placed in a middle layer of the three-ply tissue because they could be irritating if they came in contact with the skin. The tissues reached the market in 2003. The packaging was updated in 2009 to note that the tissues would inactivate HIN1 influenza (swine flu).

What They Do and Don't Do

Anti-viral tissues don't kill viruses in or on your body, so they don't shorten your course of illness. In theory, they might reduce the chance that the virus is spread to someone else who might come in contact with your discarded tissue.

Colds and influenza are spread in two main ways. First, by droplets spread through the air when you cough or sneeze, which can travel as far as six feet. Covering your cough or sneeze helps prevent this spread, but it won't eliminate it completely. Using a tissue will reduce the spread of germs whether it is an antiviral tissue or not.

Viruses are also spread by droplets settling on surfaces or virus being transferred to surfaces from your hands that are contaminated by your own respiratory secretions. A cold virus can live outside of the body or on a hard surface for three or more hours.

If you use the tissue and can't dispose of it immediately, it's possible the anti-viral tissue would deactivate the virus so the tissue would be less infective to others who would come in contact with it. However, note that these tissues don't deactivate the viruses on your hands or face, as the sides that touch your skin are not treated with anti-viral formula. You still need to wash your hands well after using the tissue to avoid spreading germs.

Whether or not someone could catch a virus from coming in contact with your used tissue also depends on whether enough time has elapsed since it was used (since they don't work immediately) and the amount of discharge (too much may overwhelm the anti-viral agents in the tissue).

A 2008 paper reviewed studies on anti-viral tissues. The included trials found they reduced cold transmission in a lab setting as compared with plain tissues, but they didn't prove superior in the real world.

What You Can Do

Antiviral tissues are unlikely to make much of a difference in reducing the spread of germs when you are sick with a cold, the flu, or another respiratory virus. And since they can cost up to twice as much as plain tissues, that can add up.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. Taking common-sense steps to keep others healthy is important:

  • Wash your hands: Proper handwashing is the best way to prevent the spread of infections. Make sure you are doing it correctly and often.
  • Cover your cough: Covering your mouth with a tissue or coughing into your elbow can significantly reduce the spread of germs, although it won't eliminate it completely.
  • Avoid people at high risk when you are sick: Infants, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at high risk for serious complications or death from viruses that would not usually be a problem for a healthy adult. If you aren't well, stay away from people that could be severely affected by your illness.
  • Use hand sanitizer: If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based sanitizer is a proven alternative. As long as your hands aren't visibly soiled and have not come into contact with body fluids, using hand sanitizer will help cut down on the spread of germs.
  • Know when to see a doctor: Most colds and respiratory illnesses go away on their own. Very few people really need to go to the doctor when they get sick with the common cold. However, there are certain symptoms that may indicate you need to seek medical attention. When you get worse instead of better after about a week or your symptoms last longer than 10 days, those are both indicators that your cold may have turned into something more serious.

A Word From Verywell

There is nothing inherently wrong with antiviral tissues. They are not bad for you and they should not cause any significant problems if you decide to use them, as long as you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. But they probably aren't really of any benefit either. The bottom line is, if you like them and don't mind spending the extra money to purchase them, that's fine. Just don't expect them to keep anyone healthier than any other tissues do.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kimberly-Clark Corporation. Kleenex Anti Viral Tissue. MSDS No. 100000001048.

  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Kleenex brand anti-viral tissue application for pesticide.

  3. Paules CI, Marston HD, Fauci AS. Coronavirus infections—more than just the common cold. JAMA. 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.0757

  4. U.S. Patent Office. US4738847A Multi-ply virucidal product.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Do your part to slow the spread of flu.

  6. Kids Health. Coping with colds.

  7. Spencer B. OTC product: Kleenex anti-viral tissue. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2008;48(1):112. doi:10.1331/JAPhA.2008.08503

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: Protect yourself and others.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common cold.

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.