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Clean Your Smartphone to Avoid COVID-19 and Other Viruses

Our phones are dirty – seven times dirtier than your toilet dirty. That’s nasty. 

And now that the coronavirus (COVID-19), has become a threat to many Americans, it’s important to keep your phone clean. COVID-19 can survive on some surfaces – including your phone – for up to nine days. But that’s not the only germs you should be concerned about.

Your phone goes into the bathroom with you, sits on the table at restaurants, on the seat beside you on the train or bus, so it’s no surprise it’s covered in bacteria – in fact, fecal matter can be found on 1 out of every 6 smartphones. In a separate study, researchers found  that “Mobile phones have become veritable reservoirs of pathogens as they touch faces, ears, lips, and hands of different users of different health conditions.” 

And if you really want to get the heebie-jeebies, a study by the University of Arizona found an average office desk – your smartphone’s home for about 40 hours a week – has hundreds of times more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. Think about it – the office restrooms are cleaned regularly – when was the last time you disinfected your desk, keyboard, mouse, chair…

The good news is that cleaning your phone can be simple and inexpensive but you do need to be careful. Common household cleaners may kill the bacteria, but some may also damage your phone. 


  • Window cleaner, kitchen cleaner, vinegar and rubbing alcohol – Some newer phones have a protective water and oil resistant coating – oleophobic (oil-repellant) and hydrophobic (water-repellent) – that can wear down over time. Never use harsh, abrasive cleaners like Bar Keepers Friend, Windex, or even vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Though they may not scratch the screen, it will certainly erode the protective coating and shorten the device’s lifespan.
  • Paper towels – Even a good quality paper towel can leave debris and scratches on your phone as it shreds while you’re wiping down your device.
  • Compressed air – Though your phone cases may be durable, blowing compressed air into the portals can cause serious damage, especially to your mic. Some phone manufacturers like Apple specifically warn consumers not to use compressed air.
  • Dish soap and hand soap – Because both have to be used with water, and because we know water and electronics are generally a no-no, most manufacturers warn consumers to keep the two far from one another. Even for phones that are water-resistant, though they can be rinsed, water will usually get into the ports meaning you can’t charge until they dry out or you run the risk of frying the electronics. 
  • Disinfectant wipes – Clorox and other disinfectant wipes typically contain alcohol that will strip off the oleophobic (oil-repellant) and hydrophobic (water-repellent) coatings.


  • The safest and most effective way to clean your device’s screen is with a microfiber cloth. If the screen is especially dirty, use distilled water to dampen the microfiber cloth – never pour, squirt, drip, or any other liquid related verb, water directly on the screen. Obviously use the same method for the sides and back of the screen. You can also use
  • Swipe Wipes are microfibre cloths that stick to the back of your phone and remove smudges, fingerprints, germs, and bacteria. 
  • Whoosh Screen Clean Wipes are designed to remove makeup from your phone’s screen. They’re odor-free, antimicrobial, and promise to make phones 99.9% cleaner than 
  • Scotch Tape – Yep – good old Scotch Tape is ideal for removing sand, lint, and grit from the crevices of your device. For the really tiny spaces like speaker holes, use a toothpick or vacuum out the debris with a small crevice tool
  • If you’re really concerned about the number of germs on your device, consider Phone Soap, a UV light that promises to kill up to 99.9% of bacteria. They’re not cheap, but if for individuals with compromised immune systems, in particular, they’re worth it.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.