In the midst of the pandemic we’re in, hopefully you’re the type who adheres to all safety protocols like wearing a mask and keeping a social distance. Hopefully you’re also washing/sanitising your hands often and not touching your face too much. And if like most of us, you use your smartphone wherever you go – eating at a restaurant, using public restrooms – then you should extend that cleaning effort on your phone as well.
The science shows that bacteria are very happy breeding on smartphone screens, and viruses stick to glass surfaces for up to 96 hours. Some of the most dangerous bugs have been found on the plastic and glass surfaces of smartphones and they can spread to your fingers, your face, and your desk from all the other places you put your phone down.
How to clean a smartphone safely
Before you start, power down the device, remove any cases, and unplug any accessories so you’ve got full access to the phone. Gentleness is key when it comes to cleaning a smartphone because there are expensive and delicate bits of electronics.
Your main cleaning tool should be a microfibre cloth or a camera lens cloth. These specially-designed cloths have more fibres than other types of cloth so they can pick up more microscopic particles, including bacteria and viruses. That doesn’t mean it kills them—just lifts them off surfaces without the use of water.
After wiping, disinfect the cloth before using it again. You can hand wash it or use the washing machine with warm water, and hang it up to dry. And wash your hands thoroughly after handling the germy cloth.
In general, alcohol, bleach, and most harsh disinfectant chemicals can clean the sides and back of a phone, but those chemicals (including sanitising wipes) should stay away from the glass front of your phone (unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer), as they will eat away at the oleophobic coating that fights fingerprint smudges and hydrophobic (water-repellent) coating.
However, both iPhone and Samsung phones can be cleaned with 70% isopropyl alcohol (70% evaporates faster than anything with a lower percentage) or Clorox disinfecting wipes (but no bleach!) on hard surfaces if you insist. Don’t spray the alcohol directly on the cell phone – use a small corner of a cloth to gently clean the phone. Google says it’s OK to use cleaning wipes on Pixel handsets, but use them sparingly, well away from the ports and buttons. And don’t submerge any phone in any cleaning agents.
Soap and water
Regular soap and warm water works too if you’re intending to wipe it down with a soft cloth. Just be sure to squeeze out excess liquid before using as too much moisture will damage the phone. Be sure to avoid getting excess moisture around ports and buttons.
If your phone is fully IP68 rated for waterproofing—and triple-check the specs before you attempt this—you can place the phone in a bowl of clean water for a minute, then dry with a cloth.
You can also use an ultraviolet light sanitiser. While it’s known to be effective in killing germs, they aren’t proven to kill in every single crevice on your phone. They’re best used alongside the other methods described above.
Do your research
The best recommendation is to look online for device-specific instructions because not all phones are created equally.
However, if you’re concerned about damaging your screen, you can always pick up a cheap screen protector. If it gets destroyed by chemicals, it can be replaced far more cheaply than getting a new phone.
Keeping your smartphone clean is just one part of a broader plan you should implement to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. In addition to shaking hands less, washing them more, or avoiding touching your face, it’s going to be pretty impractical to avoid touching your smartphone. So sanitising it is the best way to go.