Smartphones are always covered in bacteria, but viruses can also survive there, including COVID-19. We explain how to properly disinfect your smartphone.
The coronavirus pandemic certainly seems to have taught people to wash their hands thoroughly after visiting public places and to touch their face less often. However, not everyone has caught on to another useful tip — disinfecting gadgets, in particular the one we pick up a hundred times a day that also often touches our face. We explain why it’s important to clean your smartphone and how to do it properly.
The first thing to remember is that at room temperature coronavirus can survive and remain infectious on metal, glass, ceramic, and plastic for several days. The virus can get onto a phone in two ways: either in tiny droplets when an infected person coughs nearby, or from your own hands after touching door handles, elevator buttons and the like.
If you never hand your phone to other people (why would you?) and you don’t invite passers-by to cough and splutter over it, then the probability of infection by airborne route is low. Transmission by hand depends on the duration of contact and varies for different microorganisms — there is currently no reliable data for COVID-19.
Therefore, it is better to assume that the virus can be transmitted if you hold your smartphone after touching a source of infection and not washing your hands afterwards. Also remember that hands are not the only point of contact: the phone often brushes our face and ears when speaking over it. In general, it is better to disinfect your phone regularly — every time you return home.
Of the most common household products, the best for dealing with coronavirus are ethanol (C2H5OH), isopropyl alcohol (C3H7OH), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and sodium hypochlorite (NaClO).
Isopropyl alcohol is considered the least harmful to the oleophobic coating that allows fingers to slide over the screen without covering it in fingerprints. So use it if you can (as spray or wet wipes). See, for example, this guide from Apple.
Ethanol and hydrogen peroxide should be considered a backup — less desirable option, when nothing else is available. With frequent use, they can easily ruin the oleophobic coating. Even once might be enough, it depends on the coating — but you probably don’t want to experiment with your phone screen to find out.
As for concentration, the optimal is about 70-80%. Purer alcohol evaporates too quickly; for best results, you need the disinfecting solution to sit on the surface for about a minute. Lower concentration, on the other hand, is less efficient in killing viruses. That’s why you shouldn’t rely on vodka instead of ethyl alcohol, or glass cleaner instead of isopropyl alcohol: these compounds have an alcohol content much lower than 70%.
Avoid pouring the disinfectant into the connectors, speakers, and other openings in the smartphone, even if it is waterproof. Instead, take a cotton pad, soak it in the liquid, and apply it to all sides of the device. There is no need to press hard, just carefully and thoroughly wipe the whole surface.
Another suspect when it comes to disinfection is Chlorhexidine, however, this substance does little to protect against coronavirus so it’s not recommended in this case.
If chemical disinfection doesn’t suit you, there are other ways to sanitize your smartphone. For example, ultraviolet irradiation. Or you can place your phone inside a sealed plastic bag every time you go out and discard this bag immediately afterwards (the virus can survive a long time on polyethylene too). It might not look very chic, but it doesn’t affect the usability much and keeps you safe.
The most radical option is to altogether stop touching your phone when you leave the house, unless it’s absolutely necessary. This also doubles up as an effective digital detox strategy.
Also, don’t neglect other gadgets and items that you use in public places: tablets, laptops, smartwatches, bracelets, headphones, and the like. It’s also worth checking on the product website or in the instructions whether the manufacturer has any recommendations as to which substances are best suited for the device cleaning and how to apply them.