Let’s get real for a moment here: Your phone is your ride or die. It’s constantly hanging on the table when you go out to dinner, chilling on your nightstand when you sleep, and spending some QT with you while you do your thing in the bathroom.
Given that your phone goes
pretty much everywhere with you, it’s worth noting that it picks up a lot of dirt, germs, and bacteria in the process. Like, a lot of it.
Case in point: In a study out of the University of Arizona, researchers took cultures from 27 high school students’ phones and found more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies on those phones. Among them were microbes that have the potential to make you sick, like Staphylococcus aureus and pseudomonas. Worth noting: Other studies have found some pretty intense pathogens like streptococcus, MRSA, and E. coli, on phones. So yeah, your phone is nasty.
It’s important to point out that having any of those germs on your phone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get sick, says Karen WeiRu Lin, MD, assistant dean of global health at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “As long as those germs don’t get into an opening in your body, you’re okay,” she says. “But most people hold their phones really close to their faces.”
Basically, you’re rolling the dice when it comes to contracting some kind of illness if you clean your phone next to never. On the flip side, keeping your phone clean can help prevent the spread of a whole host of illnesses.
Obviously, that expensive gadget isn’t exactly something you casually scrub with soap and water. So here’s how to clean your phone without ruining it—and how to keep it a little less germy day to day.
First of all, how often should I clean my phone?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule on this, and a lot of it depends on how often you’re using your phone, as well as where you take it, Dr. Lin says. If you basically keep your phone in a safe spot in your bag, and you know you only use it when your hands are clean, you can probably get away with washing it every week or so.
But if you’re like most people and you take your phone pretty much everywhere, it’s not a bad idea to clean it a few nights a week, Dr. Lin says—especially if it’s cold and flu season.
How do I actually clean and disinfect my phone?
Cleaning your phone with any cleaner product is better than not doing it at all. But Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious disease expert in Southampton, New York, recommends doing the following:
What about those phone-cleaning devices? Are they actually legit?
A quick look on Amazon shows there are plenty of screen cleaners, wipes, and even UV light disinfectants that are specifically marketed as useful to clean your phone. But experts don’t recommend using them, as they haven’t been well-studied and proven to be effective.
“I would never use one of these cleaning wipes on my phone,” says Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, a professor at Rutgers University who has researched handwashing and cross-contamination. It’s not that they’ll harm your phone, per se, but you just don’t need them. Instead, Dr. Fernando adds, it’s really better to just follow the proven phone-cleaning method listed above.
Is there anything I definitely *shouldn’t* use to clean my phone?
Take a pass on using bleach to clean your phone. “Do not use harsh or hospital grade disinfectant wipes,” Dr. Fernando warns—they can damage your phone.
Many newer phones also have a fingerprint-resistant, oil-repelling coating, and cleaning products and abrasive materials will wear that down and may even scratch your phone. However, if you add a screen protector to your phone, this isn’t as much of a concern.
How can I keep my phone less germ-y between cleanings?
If you talk on your phone a lot and you’re worried about germs, Dr. Lin says it’s worth looking into using headphones or using your phone’s speaker when you talk to avoid putting your phone up against your face.
Also, Dr. Schaffner says, practicing good hand hygiene (and making sure you don’t regularly place your phone on potentially dirty surfaces like bathroom counters and restaurant tables) can go a long way. “Instead of worrying about the bacteria on their phone, people should be more concerned with the bacteria on their hands,” he says. “They can manage this risk by washing their hands and/or using hand sanitizer.”
You and your phone can’t live in a bubble together, and there’s no way to keep it totally germ-free. But regularly washing your hands and making time for a weekly phone wipe-down can make a huge difference in what you’re carrying around with you all day and, hopefully, how often you get sick.
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