Cleaning your phone can be a solid coronavirus-prevention practice but how much is too much? What products are OK to use? A recent study found that, on surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic, coronavirus can survive for anywhere between two hours and nine days.
Phone cleaning is certainly not as cut and dried as you thought. After hours of research and scrubbing phones with everything from Clorox wipes to Lysol toilet-bowl cleaner, I’ve come up with some basic lessons for what you can do—and not do—with that petri dish phone of yours. Let’s be very clear: Even when there isn’t a pandemic sweeping the globe, your phone can get dirty.

How should I clean my smartphone?

It’s long been the guidance of Apple, Samsung and other phone makers to just use a microfiber cloth to shine up your device.

All my new infectious-disease friends, however, say that to effectively kill the virus on a surface, you need disinfectant solution—for instance, something with at least 55% isopropyl alcohol.

On Monday, I reported that Apple updated its website to remove its blanket ban on all cleaning supplies. It now gives the OK to use a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox disinfecting wipe on the surface of all Apple products. Google also confirmed that it’s OK to use isopropyl alcohol or Clorox wipes to clean its Pixel devices.

After publication of this column, Samsung updated its cleaning guidance to include alcohol-based cleaners. It now advises Galaxy owners to dampen a cloth with a disinfectant or alcohol-based solution and wipe gently. It says not to apply liquid directly onto your phone.

Of course, the big question right now is, where do you BUY the wipes?

Can you use soap and water, as many have asked me? Sure, but avoid using rough paper towels or sponges on the screen. And never use bleach.

Cleaning ≠ Sanitizing

To clean a phone screen is simply to physically wipe it down. This can be done with a microfiber cloth, a wet wipe, or just the sleeve of your shirt; essentially any common soft tissue or fabric. Each of these items work because they successfully “clean” a touchscreen by physically removing visible debris (such as dirt, grease, oils and dust). They’re purpose is not to kill or reduce a certain number of bacteria.

Sanitizing A Surface
Sanitization can be achieved in several different ways, including germicidal ultraviolet (UV) light. In contrast to cleaning (which emphasizes the removal of debris, but doesn’t define any reduction in bacteria), the act of sanitization focuses almost exclusively on reducing bacterial counts on a given surface. To ‘sanitize’ a surface, you need to deactivate at least 99.9% of pathogens.

Phone-cleaning gadget? Absolutely!

If you’re not into getting your phone and hands all wet, you can try this UV sanitizing gadget that can be bought on Amazon. Pop your phone in the tiny tanning bed for 3 minutes and the company claims to kill bacteria and germs on the surface of the items. NOTE: UV light does not physically remove debris from phones or tablets, but it will deactivate bacteria and spores, effectively killing them. This means that when a phone is exposed to intense UV light, the germs are deactivated but the screen will often look the exact same as before the phone entered the solution.

The big cleaning-solution fear cited by smartphone makers is damage to your phone screen’s oleophobic layer. This is a protective coating on your screen that repels both water and oil. Basically, it helps minimize fingerprints and smudges. “Cleaning products and abrasive materials will diminish the coating and might scratch your iPhone,” Apple’s website reads.

Soft Scrub with some bleach for five minutes? Still in decent shape. Finally, I decided to let it sit in a stew of toilet-bowl cleaner for two hours, then I threw in a five-minute rubdown with nail-polish remover, which has acetone. That did it…just about. (The phone, miraculously, still worked.)

Should you do any of that? Absolutely not, but these screens are far more resistant to these products than I’d thought. Plus, the oleophobic layer on your phone is going to wear from normal use anyway. When cleaning with your disinfecting wipes, however, avoid getting liquid in the ports. Even if most phones are now water resistant, that resistance wears over time.
“It’s possible, theoretically, for corona virus to live on a smartphone. If you had it out and someone sneezed or coughed on it and then you handled the phone, you could pick up infection that way. People should keep their phones close to themselves. There is very little risk involved then.”
Daniel R. Kuritzkes

Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Brigham and Women’s Hospital