Harmful germs and bacteria can live on the surface of your phone and tablet for days. Use these cleaning methods to disinfect your electronic devices.

By Kathy Barnes and Jessica Bennett
Updated March 05, 2020
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Your phone is one of the filthiest items you touch all day. The device goes with you everywhere: to work, the grocery store, the gym, and even (admittedly) the bathroom. Along the way, it picks up germs from everything you've touched, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. By some estimates, your phone is 10 times dirtier than most toilet seats.

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According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of London, nearly every phone contains bacteria. Additionally, of the 390 phones tested, one out of six tested positive for E. coli, a potentially illness-causing bacteria that comes from fecal matter. That's not great news for a device that frequently touches (or comes close to) your hands, mouth, and ears.

Research shows that viruses transfer easily between the surface of your phone and your fingers, and viruses such as the flu can survive and potentially infect others for up to 48 hours after being left behind on a surface. And for infection-causing germs like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that life span is even longer, with the bacteria surviving for weeks.

Ready to give your mobile device a good scrubbing? These are some of the best products and procedures for keeping your cell phone, tablet, and accessories germ-free. Follow these steps on how to clean your phone and protect yourself from viruses.

How to Clean Your Phone and Other Electronic Devices

Regular cleaning is essential to curbing bacteria growth on your electronic devices. Consider making it a daily habit and wipe down your phone or tablet every night before bed. Use these tips to do it safely.

Step 1: Turn the Device Off

Before you clean any high-tech product, turn it off completely and unplug cables. This will minimize damage if any liquid should get on the device. It's also a good idea to remove the case or cover and, if possible, take out your phone's battery.

Step 2: Clean the Phone Screen

The screen is perhaps the dirtiest part of a phone or tablet, especially those with touch screens. To wipe away fingerprints, smudges, and bacteria from the screen, use a dry, lint-free microfiber cloth (paper towels and even the softest tissues can cause scratches). If necessary, lightly dampen the cloth with water. Avoid using any cleaners with alcohol or ammonia on a touch screen, as these can damage the oleophobic coating that helps guard against fingerprint smudges. To disinfect your phone or tablet, wipe it down with alcohol- and ammonia-free disinfectant wipes, taking care not to let any of the liquid seep into the ports or mic areas. Another option for cleaning your phone from potential viruses : Purchase a gadget cleaners that uses UV light to sanitize your device. Some versions even charge your phone at the same time.

Use light pressure when wiping the screen to avoid scratches. Older phones with plastic screens can easily scratch. Some newer smartphones and tablets have a coating that repels oils from your skin, and rubbing the finish too hard will wear it away quickly. If your device has a glass front and back, you'll need to clean both sides with the same care. If you're not sure of your phone's construction, check the manufacturer's guide or ask your mobile service provider.

If your screen is cracked, take extra care while cleaning. Wiping it at all can cause the cracks to spread, and using a damp cloth can cause water damage. It may be best to skip cleaning the phone screen until you are able to replace it.

Step 3: Clean the Shell

It's fine to use a small amount of water on the metal and plastic parts of your cell phone's exterior, but be careful to not let any liquid get into the ports. Dip your microfiber cloth or a cotton swab in water and clean the shell, including the camera lens and inside the battery cover, if possible. Window cleaners, ammonia, or other household chemicals are too harsh, so choose disinfectant wipes derived from natural ingredients to sanitize your phone. Wipe up excess moisture with a dry microfiber cloth or let everything air dry. Never use a hairdryer to speed up the process as the heat could warp your device.

Step 4: Clean Other Accessories

Don't forget to also occasionally clean the charger, headphones, keyboard, stylus, and other accessories you frequently handle. You can use computer-cleaning wipes to remove debris and disinfect any of these products. For a DIY option, dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and gently run it over all areas of the accessories. Don't use compressed air to blast away dirt because the force can cause damage. To loosen stubborn dirt from ports, connectors, or under keys, use a dry paintbrush instead.

Step 5: Clean Your Phone Case

Learning how to clean a phone case is another smart way to protect yourself from illness. If you keep your phone or tablet in a case, it's important to also keep the case clean. For a plastic case, use rubbing alcohol or an all-purpose disinfectant on cotton swabs to wipe both the outside and inside. Many silicone, rubber, or plastic phone cases can also be cleaned in the dishwasher. If you have a leather case, use a leather cleaner according to the manufacturer's directions. Fabric cases that cannot be thrown in the laundry machine are nearly impossible to clean and the most likely to harbor bacteria; avoid them if possible.

Step 6: Let the Device Dry

Allow your phone, case, and components to dry completely before reassembling the pieces and turning it back on. Your phone or tablet is now clean and ready to use!

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