How (And Why) To Clean And Disinfect Your Smartphone

No offense intended, but your smartphone is a filth magnet. It doesn’t just collect fingerprints and mundane grime; viruses and bacteria can and do live all over your device, and you interact with all that every time you touch it. With the recent emphasis on sanitizing and disinfecting the world around us, it’s a good idea not to forget about the device that spends all day in your pocket or in your hands.

Unfortunately, some seemingly common-sense cleaning techniques can actively damage components like the screen and charging port—they’re more delicate than you think. That’s why it’s important to know how to clean your smartphone the right way.

And there’s ample evidence that your phone is not as sanitary as you’d like it to be. In a 2017 scientific study of high school student phones, a wide variety of potentially pathogenic microbes were found on their devices. How much? All the way back in 2002, a researcher found 25,127 germs per square inch on telephones—and that was a deskbound phone, not one that goes with you into the bathroom, on the subway and everywhere in between.

Left to their own devices, these germs don’t go away quickly. Says Dr. Kristin Dean, Associate Medical Director with Doctor On Demand: “The cold virus has been seen to last on surfaces for up to 28 days in some studies.” But that doesn’t mean it can make you sick that whole time. “The flu virus has been shown to be capable of causing infection for up to eight hours on hard surfaces such as a phone,” says Dean.

So your phone may not be the most significant disease vector in your life, but it is indeed possible to catch a malady simply from handling your phone—so keeping it clean and disinfected is a one big part of your defense against E. coli, Streptococcus and any number of other viruses, up to and including COVID. Here’s what you need to know.

How to Clean Your Smartphone by Hand

It’s not hard to clean and disinfect your phone, but you’ll want to do it frequently. If your phone leaves the house—or comes out of your pocket in the bathroom—then its surface probably gets re-infected on a regular basis. A daily cleaning regimen is ideal, though if that’s too much to ask, try to clean your phone at least twice a week. There are somewhat automated methods you can employ daily as well—read the following sections for those.

For the best results, get an alcohol-based disinfectant wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, as well as a soft, non-abrasive cloth—microfiber cloths are ideal. Why? Apple specifically recommends 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes and Clorox wipes, and this is good general guidance for most other smartphones as well.

But you should definitely not use any kind of cloth that’s abrasive, including napkins and paper towels. Steer clear of most disinfectant wipes, especially anything that includes bleach, and never spray cleaners directly onto the phone; you should only apply cleaning solutions via damp cloths or disinfectant wipes.

Why these precautions? Many smartphones feature specially treated glass that can be damaged by harsh chemicals, including bleach-based cleaners and rough cloths. And you certainly don’t want to force cleaning fluid into a port or other opening on your phone with a spray.

Cleaning Your Smartphone by Hand

  1. If you keep your phone in a case, remove it.
  2. Completely power down the phone.
  3. Gently wipe your entire phone with a Clorox or similar disinfectant wipe, avoiding the charging port.
  4. Let the phone air dry for 3-5 minutes to sanitize the phone’s surface.
  5. Use a microfiber cloth to gently buff and dry the phone.
  6. Repeat the process on your phone case, both inside and out. Clean it with the disinfectant wipe and let it air dry, then wipe it down with as microfiber cloth. You don’t have to be as gentle with the case because it’s generally made from rugged plastic, rubberized or metal components.

How to Clean Your Smartphone Automatically with UV Light

If the manual cleaning process seems like a lot of work—and something you might not remember to do on a regular basis—then there’s an easier (and depending upon how well you clean your phone by hand, arguably more thorough) approach. Use a UV sanitizer for your phone.

UV sanitizers are countertop devices which you insert your phone into (and any other small items you might want to sanitize). The gadget is bathed in ultraviolet light—specifically, UV-C, which has been demonstrated to have the ability to eliminate microscopic pathogens like the COVID-19 virus, not to mention superbugs like MRSA and Acinetobacter.

Equipped with a UV sanitizer, you can clean your phone (and case, separately) as frequently as you like. The cleaning cycle lasts several minutes and works unattended, so you can keep it wherever you drop your keys and give the phone an ultraviolet bath when you come home from work. Here are a few of the best UV sanitizers you can buy today.

PhoneSoap Pro

PhoneSoap has been making UV sanitizers for some time, and the Pro model is one of the company’s newest—and largest. You can use it to fit any phone on the market, including large models like the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

It runs its sanitizer cycle in half the time of other PhoneSoap devices—just five minutes. And it has a trio of USB ports (two USB-C and one USB-A) so it can serve as a USB charging station to top off other devices at the same time.

Lexon Oblio QI Wireless Charger with UV Sanitizer

It’s hard not to love the aesthetics of the Lexon Oblio, which looks more like a sculpture than a tech appliance. The vase-like container is a 10-watt wireless Qi-certified charger that can fast-charge most phones in under three hours.

But while the phone is inside, the Oblio can also be configured to bathe it in UV-C light to virtually eradicate viruses and bacteria. It takes about 20 minutes to run its anti-bacterial cleaning cycle.

Casetify UV Phone Sanitizer

The Casetify UV Phone Sanitizer is packed with no fewer than six UV lights which allow it to run a high-speed cleaning cycle in just three minutes, among the fastest you can find anywhere. That’s handy if you’re in a hurry to get your phone back. While inside, the sanitizer also serves as a Qi-compatible wireless charger.

Protect Your Smartphone with Antimicrobial Cases and Screen Protectors

With the right antimicrobial accessories, you can proactively keep your phone clean from germs—or at least somewhat cleaner. These accessories aren’t magic; they’re not impervious shields that completely protect you from germs. But it’s nonetheless remarkable how many cases and screen protectors now come with some antimicrobial properties that have a real, measurable effect on reducing the impact of germ buildup on your phone.

But let’s set expectations at the right level. An antimicrobial case or screen protector may reduce the ability of bacteria to colonize on your phone. And while that’s a nice property to have, it won’t prevent COVID, for example, which is a virus and not bacteria. That means an antimicrobial case and screen protector is part of an overall strategy for keeping your phone sanitized. We recommend buying antimicrobial accessories when you next upgrade your phone or replace your case. It’s a good idea to combine that with routine cleanings that can catch everything else, whether manually with wipes and cloth or automatically with a UV sanitizer.

There are antimicrobial cases and screen protectors available for most popular, contemporary phones. To steer you in the right direction, we rounded up a few of the very best accessories fore the iPhone 12; these models are also available for other phones from Apple, Samsung and more.

Speck Presidio2 Grip for iPhone 12

Spec’s Presidio2 Grip case is available for a range of smartphones and you can easily find it on Amazon for many popular models. This polycarbonate case is resilient enough to protect your phone from drops up to 13 feet high—that’s some of the best protection you can get in a thin case. It also has “Grip” in the name for its ribbed texture and rubberized grippiness.

This is a case that won’t easily slip out of your fingers. But one of its more unusual features is the Microban antimicrobial protection—Spec promises that it delivers a 99% reduction in bacteria growth on the case, which means there are a lot fewer germs going into your pocket.

tech21 Evo Clear Phone Case for Apple iPhone 12

In a sea of me-too thin smartphone cases, Tech21’s Evo case stands out for being transparent, which means you can actually see the color that you paid for when you bought your phone. Moreover, it’s UV-resistant and guaranteed not to yellow over time, even after exposure to direct=[ sunlight.

When it comes to doing its job protecting your phone, it resists drops from up to 10 feet. And thanks to a collaboration with BioCote, the case has “self-cleaning” anti-microbial properties that continuously work to disrupt the growth of viruses and bacteria on the surface.

OtterBox Symmetry Series Case for iPhone 12

Otterbox is one of the best-selling case brands, and for good reason. This company knows how to protect your phone from damage, and the thin case—which comes in a variety of colors, including clear—can withstand drops and bumps to the military standards in MIL-STD-810G (the same spec that many rugged laptops adhere to). And in addition, it has antimicrobial materials built in to protect the case against many common bacteria and viruses.

OtterBox Amplify Glass Antimicrobial Screen Protector for iPhone 12

OtterBox Amplify Glass Antimicrobial Screen Protector for iPhone 12

Otterbox doesn’t just make antimicrobial cases; the brand also has screen protectors as well. The Amplify Glass screen protector was made in partnership with Corning; it offers a high level of scratch resistance as well as an antimicrobial agent baked into the glass in such a way that it never wear out or rubs off—it lasts the life of the accessory.

It’s also the first EPA-registered antimicrobial glass, it’s certified to be safe and non-toxic for ordinary use. The package contains a complete installation kit so it’s easy to install.

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Zagg Glass Elite VisionGuard+

Don’t be fooled; modern screen protectors aren’t simple sheets of glass. Case in point: Zagg’s VisionGuard+ screen protector is chock full of high-tech features. It’s extremely strong, made with a tempering process that makes it highly scratch resistant.

The edges in particular are reinforced to prevent chips and cracks where they commonly form. And the aluminosilicate glass includes an EyeSafe layer that essentially serves as a blue light filter for easier viewing at night. Of course, it also includes an antimicrobial treatment that inhibits the growth of microorganisms on the surface.