How to Disinfect Your Smartphone

by John Mortensen

How to Disinfect Your Smartphone

How to Disinfect Your Smartphone

You’re careful to wash your hands throughout the day and sanitize common household objects like light switches and counters. But how often do you sanitize your smartphone and its accessories, such as earbuds?

You use your smartphone frequently every day. You bring it everywhere, including bathrooms, and you set it down on all sorts of surfaces. Then, you send a text and rub your eyes afterward. You wash your hands before starting to cook, but then touch your phone repeatedly to refer to the recipe you’re cooking that evening.

When you touch an object like a light switch then pick up your phone, you’re transferring the germs and bacteria onto your phone. So even though you wash your hands, you risk unknowingly picking up germs again the next time you use your smartphone.

But How Dirty do Smartphones Really Get?

 But How Dirty do Smartphones Really Get

According to the University of Arizona scientists, your smartphone carries ten times more bacteria than a toilet seat says microbiologist Charles Gerba.

"While toilets tend to get cleaned frequently because people associate the bathroom with germs, cellphones and other commonly handled objects - like remote controls - are often left out of the cleaning routine.

Cellphones pick up germs all the time, Gerba said. "I see people talk on their phone on toilets."

However, the amount of germs on a phone isn't a problem - it's the sharing of phones between people. Without sharing, each phone carries just one set of germs, and won't get its owner sick, Gerba said."

Thankfully, cleaning and sanitizing your smartphone is easy and doesn’t take a long time. 

What Cleaning Tools Should You Not Use On Your Smartphone?

What Cleaning Tools Should You Not Use On Your Smartphone

While it’s important to keep our devices and their accessories clean, be sure to use the right types of cleaners to avoid damaging your smartphone.

You never want to use cleaners that can have excessive moisture on your phone, since that can damage the interior electronic components of your phone. Additionally, many cleaners can damage your phone’s screen, especially with repeated use. 

Do not use the following cleaning tools on your smartphone:

  • Hydrogen peroxide,
  • Pressurized air,
  • Harsh chemicals,
  • Sanitizing wipes like those designed for countertops,
  • Window cleaners,
  • Ammonia,
  • Aerosol spray cleaners,
  • Abrasive powders,
  • Bleach.

So, what are the best ways to clean your smartphone?

What Is a Common Method Many People Use to Clean a Phone?

Many people use isopropyl alcohol to clean their smartphones. Some use it as an alcohol wipe, and others combine distilled water and isopropyl alcohol into a spray to clean their devices. 

If you choose to use the spray method, follow these steps:  

If you choose to use the spray method, follow these steps

  • Combine the isopropyl alcohol with distilled water in a one-to-one ratio in a spray bottle.
  • Mix the ingredients together by gently shaking the spray bottle, and then lightly spray a soft, microfiber cloth with the solution. Never spray your device directly! Also, do not get the cloth too damp.
  • Take your phone out of your case before cleaning, and then gently wipe your whole phone down. 
  • To get build-up out of crevices, use a dry cotton swab.
  • Let your device dry thoroughly before putting it back into its case.

If you use this method, it’s critical to use distilled water as most tap water has other types of microscopic minerals that could scratch or injury your smartphone’s screen.

Is It Safe and Effective to Sanitize Your Phone With Isopropyl Alcohol?

While isopropyl alcohol is commonly used to clean smartphones, is it actually safe? 

Whether you’re using an alcohol wipe designed for smartphones or making the spray mixture, you are putting liquid onto your phone. In general, liquids and electronics don’t mix, so is this a good method of cleaning your phone?

The reality is that this may not be the safest way to keep your phone clean. According to Apple’s website, they recommend using a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe your phone. They advise against using liquids to clean your phone, especially hydrogen peroxide and household cleaners. 

Samsung also recommends using a dry, lint-free cloth as the main method of cleaning their phones. However, they also indicate you can dampen the corner of a soft cloth with water to wipe the screen up and down, and then immediately go over the surface with a dry cloth. They also stress the importance of avoiding household cleaning solutions.

Risks of using isopropyl alcohol on your smartphone

What are the potential risks of using isopropyl alcohol on your smartphone?

Anytime you expose your device to a liquid, you run the risk of damaging your phone. That said, carefully wiping the isopropyl alcohol solution on your phone certainly minimizes the risk of the liquid running into sensitive areas such as the phone port or the speaker. 

However, repeated exposure to isopropyl alcohol may wear down the oleophobic coating on your smartphone screen. It’s the oleophobic coating on your device’s screen that repels oils that get on your screen, making it more likely to resist fingerprints. It’s also the reason you can wipe your screen with a dry, lint-free cloth without any cleaners, and it looks as good as new.

The oleophobic coating can also help reduce the risk of scratches on your phone’s screen, so this is a coating you want to keep around. Unfortunately, harsh chemicals, including alcohol-based products, have been found to remove this coating.   

Given the potential for isopropyl alcohol to damage your screen, what other cleaning options are available?

Safe and Effective Tools to Keep Your Smartphone Clean

There are times when you want to do more than wipe off smudges on your phone. When you want to sanitize your phone more effectively, you, fortunately, do have non-alcohol based options that help.

Wipes Designed for Mobile Devices

Wipes Designed for Mobile Devices

While wipes designed for your counters or windows can damage your smartphone, there are companies that make cleaning wipes specifically for phones. This can be an easy and quick way to clean your phone. 

When looking for wipes, be sure to double-check that the wipes are alcohol-free. Some wipes that are labeled as safe for all electronics may contain some form of cleaning alcohol, ammonia, or hydrogen peroxide, so be careful. While those ingredients may be okay for some types of electronics, those chemicals will damage the oleophobic coating on your smartphone. 

This style of cleaner can help remove fingerprints, smudges, and dirt, but it is not clear how well it sanitizes your phone.

Tools to Help Remove Dirt and Grime From Small Areas

With time and everyday use, you may notice a build-up of gunk in some of the smaller crevices and the ports of your phone. To remove any dirt and build-up, you can use dry cotton swabs. You also can purchase mini-brushes and foam-tipped swab sticks designed specifically for cleaning the small areas and ports of smartphones and other devices.  

While these cleaning tools don’t sanitize your device, it can help keep your phone working optimally by preventing dirt and grime from getting into your phone.

Ultraviolet (UV) Light Sanitizers

Ultraviolet (UV) Light Smartphone Sanitizers

PhoneSoap 3 UV Smartphone Sanitizer & Universal Charger | Patented & Clinically Proven UV Light Disinfector | (Aqua)

Another option is to purchase a UV light designed to sanitize your smartphone. These devices report being able to rid your phone of bacteria and germs without using liquids or chemicals. 

UV light sanitizers work by applying UV-C light, which is a short-wavelength ultraviolet light. This light has been found to destroy bacteria, germs, and microbes. The UV-C light kills pathogens by penetrating the cell and disrupting the DNA. 

While UV light sanitizers are safe for your phone, it’s important to use them as directed as the UV-C light can be harmful to humans. UV-C light can hurt your eyes, so do not stare at the light or handle the light more than necessary. Additionally, there is a concern that the UV-C light can cause skin cancer.

There are two types of UV light sanitizers that are commonly used—enclosed style or a wand design. 

In the enclosed style, you place your phone into a container and close the lid, so your phone is securely sealed inside. Many enclosed style sanitizers take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to sanitize your phone. The benefit of the enclosed style is that you’re not exposed to the UV-C light during this process. Your phone is contained inside the closed cleaning device, and typically a light will signal when the cleaning cycle is done. One disadvantage is that you can’t use this UV sanitizer to clean anything that is too large to fit into the enclosure, like a tablet or laptop keyboard. You can use the device to clean small objects like your keys or earbuds.

The wand design involves holding the wand sanitizer in your hand and manually running the UV-C light over your phone. The advantage is that you have more control over what the light disinfects, and you can disinfect other types of objects that won’t fit inside an enclosed style cleaner, like keyboards. The disadvantage is that you could potentially have more exposure to the UV-C light than in the enclosed style cleaners. If you decide to use a wand design, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. 

Safely Sanitizing Your Smartphone Regularly Can Help Reduce Germs

Sanitizing Your Smartphone Can Help Reduce Germs

Smartphones can be a breeding ground for bacteria and germs, but with the right cleaning techniques, you can keep your phone clean. When cleaning your phone, it’s vital to select cleaning products designed for mobile devices. 

If you use harsh chemicals or too much liquid, you run the risk of damaging your phone. Another option is to use a UV light sanitizer, which has been shown to remove bacteria and germs from smartphones effectively. However, be sure to use these tools as directed to keep yourself safe. Regardless of the cleaning method you choose, your phone will benefit from being cleaned regularly.

The Story of the Smartphone

The story of the Smartphone is so amazing and interesting it would be hard to make this entire narrative up. It is so intricately entwined in the ingenuity of humanity and the necessity to continue to discover and grow as a species. There is always hope!

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John Mortensen
John Mortensen


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