The average American checks their phone more than 50 times a day, at least according to one study from 2018. The rest of the developed world likely has a similar usage pattern. While this speaks a lot about how addicted we are to our phones, the more concerning fact is that we often use our phones in places that are germ havens such as the bathroom, in the kitchen, and other places were bacteria thrive.
Several studies and surveys suggest our phones are seven times dirtier than the average toilet. That’s more than just disgusting — it’s a true health hazard. This is especially true as the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe.
Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) formally declared the novel coronavirus (known officially as COVID-19) a pandemic. While minimizing travel to affected areas and practicing general hygiene are certainly a great starting point, don’t forget about your phone! Unless you’re extremely fastidious about washing your hands, odds are you’re bringing all sorts of nasty germs to your phone. While the odds of coronavirus hanging on your phone isn’t likely to be high unless you are in areas with major outbreaks, it’s not worth the risk.
Below we take a look at some tips on how to clean your phone to prevent viruses and other germs from hanging around.
Editor’s note: Most of these tips will apply to other electronic devices like tablets and laptops, but also be sure to check out our guide on how to clean a computer screen.
Disinfectant wipes are okay, but most household cleaners aren’t a good idea
You might think you already know how to clean your phone, after all isn’t it just a matter of grabbing a household cleaner and going to town on it? Household cleaners might be great for counters, bathrooms, and other surfaces, but are often too harsh to be used on most phones. This includes bleach, glass cleaner, and other similar products. Recently Apple and a few other OEMs confirmed it is okay to use products like Clorox sheets to disinfect your phone. These products typically use less harsh chemicals than spray bottles and the like. Another good idea might be Zeiss mobile screen wipes. These won’t work quite as well as Clorox sheets, but they will be much safer for your phone.
Smartphone makers confirmed it is okay to use products like Clorox sheets to disinfect your phone
You might be tempted to consider using a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution. This is an effective solution, but keep in mind it can be hard on a phone’s protective oleophobic coating and may end up doing damage that shortens your phone’s lifespan. If you do feel the need to use alcohol, make sure it’s on a cloth, as opposed to directly on the phone. Even better, as we’ll mention below, use screen protectors and cases which are okay to use most of these chemicals on.
In addition, here are some more general tips to know when disinfecting your smartphone.
- Don’t submerge your phone or gadgets in cleaning liquids, even if they’re waterproof.
- Avoid excessive wiping or abrasive cloths that may cause scratches.
- Avoid bleach, aerosol sprays, and strong rubbing alcohols. These will damage your phone’s coatings, particularly on glass.
- Don’t spray cleaners or compressed air directly onto your gadgets.
A microfiber cloth is one of the safest ways to clean your phone
We have a tendency to simply grab any paper towel and clean our smartphones superficially. While this generally works, it’s not the best way to wipe a smartphone down, as it tends to miss a lot of bacteria and it may end up scratching your phone in the process! Plus, most paper napkins and towels release lint, fibers, and other particles. These can then make their way in between buttons, gaps, and other parts that will later be hard to clean.
You can buy microfiber anywhere, really. They are usually in pharmacies and eyeglass stores, but you can also score some neat deals on Amazon. For example, here’s a 6-pack of microfiber cloths for under $10.
Once you have a microfiber cloth, simply wipe the screen and the rest of the phone in straight lines until all the noticeable residue comes off. If you are having trouble removing a tough stain or smudge, spray a bit of distilled water onto the cloth and wipe again. If you feel you must, you can use a mild soap solution on the cloth, or even a half-and-half mixture of 70% isopropyl alcohol and water, but again remember it might not break your phone but it could end up hurting it in the longer-term.
Dig into those hard-to-reach spots with cotton swabs
Cleaning the overall surface of your smartphone is easy, but those pesky germs and annoying particles always go and get between buttons and tiny gaps. You can use a cotton swab for this. The concept is the same as with the wipes; don’t get the swabs wet unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary. If you do need some liquid, try to keep it to a minimum. Don’t just soak the cotton swab and go at it.
Don’t go without a screen protector or case
Screen protectors and cases aren’t just good for preventing damage to your phone, they are also often easier to clean. For example, you don’t have to be quite as picky about using alcohol and other cleaning solutions on a screen protector. If it starts to take on damage, you can throw it away and replace it. Often plastic screen protectors even come in packs of three or more, so it’s not a big deal to remove one and add another.
When it comes to cases, we highly recommend something that is made of an easy to wash material like plastic, as opposed to fabric or wood-based cases that may end up severely damaged if washed.
As for cleaning screen protectors and cases? Most of the methods above will work just fine for screen protectors. For cases, you can actually remove them and wash them manually with dish soap and other solutions. Dry them off and they are ready to be put back on!
Don’t forget to wash your hands often
Okay, so this tip doesn’t help you clean your phone but it can help it from getting as dirty from the get-go. No special secrets here, just use soap or dish soap anytime you have touched a dirty surface, went to the restroom, touched a pet, and so forth.
While we are at it, it’s also strongly advised that you stop being “that person,” using your phone while literally on the toilet. Yes, I know most of us do it, even if not all of us will admit it. But especially during a pandemic, it’s best to keep as sanitary as possible.
Will rinsing your phone off help?
If you have a water-resistant phone rated for IP67 or higher, you can rinse it with water. That said, water alone doesn’t do much (if anything) for germs and viruses. It’s tempting to also use a light soap, but remember soap can slowly work away at special coatings on a phone’s glass front and back, as well as any rubber gaskets and sealings keeping the water out of your phone. So it’s best to avoid this, as it will potentially hurt your phone in the long-term. Not to mention soap getting into your ports is likely not going to end well.
A UV phone sanitizer MIGHT be worth looking into
Ultraviolet lights (UV) are able to kill bacteria and disinfect your phone in just minutes. Most UV cleaning devices work a bit like tanning beds. You lock your phone in the case and it does it’s thing. While this might seem like the easiest solution, it’s worth noting that these devices haven’t been tested to work on COVID-19, whereas more conventional cleaning solutions will certainly work.
The best and most popular UV phone sanitizer is the PhoneSoap V3. Unfortunately, it’s sold out and reportedly won’t be in stock until around April. You might be able to find one elsewhere, like eBay, but you’re likely to pay much more than it’s worth. A whole crop of third-party solutions have shown up on Amazon, but none have reviews yet and so it’s hard to say if they are legit products or just simple cash grabs to take advantage of a scared public.
So that’s a look at just a few tips on how to clean and disinfect your phone and hopefully another tool in your arsenal against the coronavirus and other germs.