With the concern about the COVID-19 Coronavirus right now, it seems like a good time to bring back the talk about the best ways to clean your phone, or disinfect it entirely. Also, your kids’ phones (ahem). Because while it’s important to know the best way to wash your hands, it’s a little counterproductive to to dry off those newly clean hands, only pick up a germy phone and start tapping on that phone screen.
– Note: This post was updated with new information on March 11, 2020 –
Before you start freaking out about your teens grabbing snacks at S’bux while scrolling Insta, reports so far are that Coronavirus itself is not likely to be able to live on metal surfaces for more than a few hours — though it may be more for plastic, and that includes phone cases.
(Update: Here is a NiH list of how long a coronavirus can be active on various surfaces. It lives the longest on plastic surfaces (16 hours), less on steel (13 hours), followed by 8.5 hours on cardboard, 3.4 hours on copper, and 2.7 hours in the air.)
The CDC also reports that while it may be possible that to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface with the virus on it, then touching your own mouth or nose, “this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
So still, this is about preparing, not panicking.
I wrote earlier this week, facts are friends. This is about common sense prevention tips, and maybe even finding some solutions that ease any anxiety you’re having just a bit.
But Coronavirus aside, with the knowledge that a cell phone can be10 times dirtier than your toilet seat (and that’s not counting kids’ phones), it’s good to have some phone-cleaning supplies and disinfectant techniques available to you any time of year at all.
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Tips and Methods for Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Phone, from Light Cleaning to the Serious Stuff
For a quick clean: Clean your phone screen with a soft microfiber cloth
For the best way to clean your phone, I like carrying soft, lint-free, microfiber cloths for my devices. They’re affordable, reusable, and come in convenient multipacks so that you can hand them out to the kids. Stash extras around the house or in the car; you really can’t have too many.
You can also consider a thin microfiber lens cloth like the ones shown above from MagicFiber. You may even have them around the house already, free with eyeglass purchases but can’t hurt to have more. Both options are washable, making them an eco-friendly choice as well.
Bonus: If you’re really worried about germs, you can whip out your cloth to wipe down ATM screens or those screens at retail check-out that you have to sign with your finger.
For a deeper clean: Clean your phone screen with warm, soapy water
If you need to get something sticky off your phone (hey, parents!) and a quick wipe-down with a cloth isn’t working, you can go to the next step. According to Apple, the easiest way to clean your phone requires nothing more than a microfiber cloth or the kind of cloth that comes with your eyeglasses — plus some soapy water. It should be slightly damp, not soaked through. And don’t use dish soap which is a lot more concentrated and a lot more sudsy. A drop of whatever you wash your hands with should be fine.
And unless you have a newer model waterproof phone (Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy S10, iPhone XS, iPhone 11, etc), avoid getting the ports wet. Otherwise, not much to worry about.
(Note: Apple has updated their recommendations since publication of this post, see below.)
For wiping away germs: Clean your phone screen with wipes or sprays made for electronics
(Updated) I’m surprised how many sites recommend using regular old household disinfectant sprays, considering how many phone manufacturers recommend against them; mainly because of how damp sprays can get your devices, and how they compromise some touch screens — and I’ve read a few horror stories from users after trying them out.
You definitely want a product that’s designed to be gentle on your pricy devices and here are a couple I like:
For the best way to clean your phone safely and make it shine, I remain the biggest fan of Whoosh! Screen Cleaning spray (above), which comes with a reusable microfiber cloth that I also love. It claims to eliminate 99.9% of “dust, dirt, oil and gunk” from your screen, so while it’s not antibacterial, it will keep it clean. There are other brands, but I really haven’t found one that’s better.
While not as eco-friendly as a reusable cloth option, I have long been a fan of Windex Electronic Wipes, which you can use safely on most gadget screens. Find multipacks on Amazon, or you can grab them at most supermarkets and hardware stores. These wipes really do work well!
Note: (Updated) The active ingredient in both of these products is Ethanol, or simple alcohol. The CDC notes that alcohol doesn’t kill germs, but removes them, which lowers the risk of transferring them from your gadget to your fingers.
For wiping away germs and disinfecting: Clean your phone screen with household cleansing wipes that contain ammonia and alcohol
Since first publishing this post, Apple has updated their how to clean your devices FAQ page (WTG Apple!) with a very clear message: they now suggest that it is fine to use a household disinfectant wipe, like Lysol wipes or Clorox wipes.
The active ingredients in each of these is a combination of isopropyl alcohol, and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride.
Isopropyl alcohol can be a slightly better choice than ethyl alcohol because it evaporates more quickly and doesn’t leave oil behind. Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (benzalkonium chloride) is an ammonia compound which is both a surfactant and a disinfectant. So unlike the electronic wipes above, these products do infect disinfect your devices.
Note that these wipes do not contain bleach! The name Clorox may make you think of bleach, but the wipes are not made with Clorox bleach. Please don’t substitute a DIY bleach solution on your phone!
The biggest problem however, is finding them. While they’re temporarily out of stock basically everywhere, the manufacturers and retailers claim they’ll be back in stock soon.
What about natural wipes?
You may generally prefer a “natural wipe” around your home like 7th Generation disinfectant wipes, in which the active ingredient is Thymol, a botanical derivative of Thyme. I’ve been trying to find resources that indicate whether it’s as effective as a product like Clorox wipes on the Novel Coronavirus, but that’s been tough.
Even the 7th Generation Coronavirus FAQ page doesn’t make any claims, and I admit that gives me pause. However they do link to the Cleaning Institute, which makes a general claim that that “disinfectants or disinfectant cleaners (also known as antibacterial cleaners) kill the germs that can cause many illnesses,” and 7th Gen Disinfecting Wipes are in fact labeled “disinfectants.”
So…I just personally can’t vouch for them comparatively and I’ve looked around a lot. Natural ingredients (Thymol, pine oil) are not mentioned in the Consumer Reports article about products that kill Coronavirus; and I see no natural disinfectants in the EPA approved list of registered anti-microbial Products for use against Novel Coronavirus, which includes products by Lysol, Clorox, Oxy, and others.
(I also take EPA info with a grain of salt these days, but still.)
If you have different info, please leave in comments and I will update.
For sterilizing and disinfecting: Clean your phone with a UV phone sterilizer
Here’s where we start getting into the serious stuff when it comes to cleaning your phone. These options for sterilizing and disinfecting your phone will cost you more, but will get the microbe-killing job done.
One of my new favorites is PhoneSoap UV-C smartphone sanitizer, an electronic device that looks like a little isolation chamber for your phone. It works using UV-C bulbs that sanitize the entire phone, reportedly killing 99.99% of bacteria and germs. It’s expensive, for sure. But it also doubles as an attractive phone charger in lots of colors. Pop your phone in there each night before bed and let it clean (and charge) while you sleep.
You can search Amazon and find a few more affordable alternatives that work in similar ways, but they’re from brands I’m not as familiar with personally and in this case, I’d go with the trusted brand that gets expert recommendations over and over.
While the PhoneSoap3 can accommodate all smartphones including the larger iPhone plus or Galaxy S10+ models, obviously it won’t fit your tablets. If you’ve got larger gadgets — or lots of phones and gadgets to clean at once — definitely check out the HomeSoap UV Sanitizer through their website.
It’s like a giant UVC-light germ-destroying locker, big enough that you can pop in your phones, remote controls, gaming controllers, hand-held games like Nintendo Switch, headphones or AirPods, or an Apple iPad Pro. (Though probably not all at once.) It’s expensive, but a smart idea for families with lots of gadgets to clean and disinfect.
For speedy sterilizing and disinfecting: Clean your phone with a UV-C wand
The great thing about using UV-C wands to clean your phone, is that they can clean microbes and bacteria really quickly, especially on smooth surfaces like phone screens. That makes them great for a quick swipe over your kids’ phones before they run out the door.
We first recommended the Verilux CleanWave UV-C sterilizing wand back in 2012, and it still gets terrific ratings. Wave it over your phone, tablet, keyboard, you name it, and it disinfects — at least until you pick it up again with your germy hands, ha. While it may be one of the best ways to clean your phone, note that it won’t get into crevices, like the buttons under your remote control or the cracks between your phone and case.
If you’re gawking at the price, I’ve been searching for a more affordable alternative for cleaning your phone with a UV-C wand. The one I feel I can recommend that has decent ratings across various sites is the Petoneer UV Wand Sterilizer. It was originally created by a pet-solution company to sterilize your pet’s food and water, but also works on your phones and devices, as with all UV-C light wands. Plus, it’s compact and not too expensive.
Top image: Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash