Mind & Body

This Is How to Clean Your Smartphone Without Destroying It

Our hands are among the dirtiest parts of our bodies. Sorry, but it's true. And that puts our smartphones in an unfortunate position. You don't want your high-tech device to also be a disease-carrying nightmare, but you also can't exactly toss it in the dishwasher to get it sanitized. Fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to tidy up your phone (just be aware of your warranty).

Cleaning Calls

Yes, your phone is filthy. Just read this Buzzfeed writer's harrowing account of what happened when she actually tested her and her coworkers' phones to see what was living on them. Spoiler alert: Literally every phone was basically a thriving germ-topia. But you can't just dunk your phone in the sink and give it a good scrubbing. If it can't handle water, won't liquids like disinfectants, dish soap, and bleach be just as harmful? Luckily, no. You can and should use real cleaners to sanitize your phone — it's just a matter of knowing how to avoid doing any damage to the technology.

First, the basics. Almost every phone manufacturer recommends some form of cleaning. Apple suggests wiping down your iPhone with a slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Motorola suggests using a microfiber cloth — the kind you might clean your glasses with — with a little water if the device is really dirty. As for Google's Pixel phone, the company has given the okay to use dish soap if necessary. These methods will go a long way toward having a cleaner phone, but unfortunately, they won't disinfect it. And disinfection is important, especially if you work in a place where more serious germs and bacteria are floating in the air.

In 2013, a study tested several different cleaning methods on an iPad that had been exposed to Clostridium difficile (usually called C. diff) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (also known as MRSA), two common and potentially dangerous inhabitants of medical facilities. What they found was that a bleach wipe was the most effective technique. A damp cloth was the second most effective, and an alcohol swab was the least.

Another study on another filthy iPad also confirmed that bleach wipes work best. Unfortunately, those prepackaged bleach wipes can also be very abrasive, and sooner or later, they'll erode the protective coating that shields your phone from oily fingerprints. Even worse, using those kinds of methods could void your warranty, since companies often specifically recommend against them.

Everyday Effectiveness

There are two things to bear in mind about those studies, though, and both are good news. First of all, you won't often encounter the kinds of germs they were testing for outside of a hospital. Second, you'll probably be better off sticking with the manufacturer-recommended cleaning methods on a daily basis, plus (and this is important) washing your hands regularly. But what if something terrible happens? What if you drop your phone in the toilet? In that case, bleach is probably your best bet — but we can't stress enough that using it may void your warranty. Gently mist the phone with an all-purpose cleaner that contains bleach, wait for 30 seconds (and no more, if you don't want to buy a new phone), then wipe it down with a microfiber cloth. Voila! You've got a sparkling-clean phone. You still need to wash your hands though.

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Learn about the many microbes in, on, and around you in "I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life" by Ed Yong. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas May 4, 2018

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