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How to Clean Your Germy Phone

Our phones are really dirty. Here is how to clean them safely and effectively.

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How to Clean Your Germy Phone

WE ARE ALL germophobes now. By the middle of March, as the novel coronavirus spread around the world and took over the headlines, everyone paying attention knew that there was a new germ out there, and it was deadly. Since then, we have learned more about virology and immunology than we ever thought possible – including the need to protect ourselves from this unwanted and unexpected pestilence.

In our rush to keep our worlds clean, we emptied stores of disinfectants and other supplies to wipe down every surface we could think of that might harbor the virus. But one place many of us overlook is the one thing we handle more during the day than perhaps any other object: our cellphones.

If you Google “cellphone germs,” you will be grossed out by headlines screaming warnings like Your Cell Phone Is 10 Times Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat (Time magazine), Your Smartphone Screen Is Probably Disgusting (USA Today) and The Dirty Cell Phone: 25,127 Bacteria per Square Inch (

Of course, most of these germs are, while icky, pretty harmless. The coronavirus is anything but that. So health experts are now recommending that you add your phone to the list of surfaces you clean often and diligently.

Coronavirus Lives on Hard Surfaces

Although no one has done a definitive study, the virus “can last for many days on plastic or hard surfaces,” says Dr. Robert L. Murphy, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering and executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Most estimates claim the virus survives from a few hours up to four or five days.

“That does not mean it is infectious,” Murphy adds. “So, we don’t know how important that really is.” He says it is “pretty unlikely” that a smartphone or other electronic device, or any other surface for that matter, could carry an infectious virus. But unlikely isn’t the same as impossible. “Use common sense and, if you have been handling (a smartphone) after touching something potentially infectious, wipe it down,” he advises. “I clean them if I have really been out and around. (But) it’s more important to focus on frequent hand-washing.”

Hands are the primary transport system for the virus, so follow the now-familiar refrain to wash them often, for at least 20 seconds, using soap and warm water and rinsing thoroughly. But if you have been, like Murphy, out and around – even though you really shouldn’t be – here’s how to safely clean and disinfect your smartphone.

How to Clean Apple Devices

Apple says that iPhone owners should use a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes to clean their device. Do not use bleach. Gently wipe the exterior surfaces of the iPhone, but avoid getting moisture in any of the phone’s openings, and don't submerge the phone in any cleaning agents.

To clean the phone, Apple says:

  • Unplug all cables and turn the phone off.

  • Use a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth, such as an eyeglass lens cloth.

  • If you still see material on the phone, use a soft, lint-free cloth with warm soapy water.

Don’t use cleaning products (including window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, ammonia and abrasives) or compressed air. The iPhone has a fingerprint-resistant oil repellent coating, and cleaning products and abrasive materials will diminish the coating and might scratch the phone, Apple warns. To ensure that Touch ID works, wipe the Home button with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Apple says that these practices also work for cleaning iPads.

How to Clean Android Devices

Apple or Android? This isn’t the time or place to have that debate. Whatever you own, you need to keep it clean, and Samsung’s support page recommends much the same as Apple for cleaning its devices.

  • First, make sure your phone is powered down and unplugged from any power sources. Remove any covers, cases or accessories.

  • It is best to use a lint-free, soft microfiber cloth on your phone. A camera lens cleaning cloth also works. Both are gentle and won’t damage the phone.

  • Gently wipe the front and back of your phone with the microfiber cloth. Do not apply too much pressure.

  • It is OK to dampen the corner of the microfiber cloth with a small amount of distilled water, but avoid getting excess moisture onto your phone.

  • To disinfect the phone, choose a hypochlorous acid-based solution (containing 50-80 parts per million) or an alcohol-based solution (containing more than 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol). Apply these disinfectants to the soft cloth, not to the phone directly.

  • Do not use compressed air, which may damage the surface of your phone.

  • Do not use spray bleach.


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