Think about how often you check your phone. Every hour? Every few minutes? We all touch our smartphones nonstop. And as we cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to think about what might be lurking on your device.
In studies, everything from e.coli to Staphylococcus aureus ― also known as MRSA ― has been lifted from the surface of smartphones. Research from the United Kingdom suggests 1 in 6 phones have feces on it, since plenty of people browse apps in the bathroom, and set their phones down while in there, as well. In other words, your beloved device is a hotbed for germs.
It stands to reason, then, that the surface of your phone could host the coronavirus if you come in contact with it, said Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of health science at Ball State University.
“We spend at least two hours daily touching the phone,” he said. Some statistics suggest it might even be more. “It clearly becomes a vehicle of transmission, especially when people share phones.”
Dr. Neha Vyas, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, agreed.
“The frequency with which you should wash your phone is probably akin to how frequently you use it,” she explained. “If you are taking it in a place that is germ-y, it is likely you want to wash it.”
If you’ve heard about UV light devices that eliminate germs from the phone, these can possibly work to kill microbes ― but only with ideal conditions.
Do certain types of UV lights work to kill germs? Yes. Could these devices work in theory? Yes. But do they actually? That’s the question, according to Khubchandani. If online reviews are an indicator, the answer is maybe not.
“The challenge is, are these products tested for efficacy?” Khubchandani said.
In general, the lights are probably not the best standalone practice to prevent virus spread. They are not as convenient, not as cheap and not as widely available as other disinfectants. “Wipes seem to be the best right now for cost, portability and proven efficiency,” Khubchandani said.
First, to keep yourself safe, wash your hands frequently ― then think about your phone. Current research on COVID-19 shows it’s most likely to be spread person-to-person through droplets, mucus or saliva.
After that, the virus is more likely to spread via hard surfaces like your phone or a door knob than soft surfaces like carpet.
“Soap and water are still the best,” Khubchandani said. “Hand washing should be done regularly for everyone. For the phone, you can’t really use [soap and water], but something like a Clorox wipe would work. Look for a wipe with at least 70% alcohol.”
Vyas suggested a wipe that doesn’t have bleach in it, so it doesn’t ruin your phone surface. Ethanol wipes can typically disinfect a surface with the coronavirus. Whatever cleaner you use, just make sure it has time to sit and work its magic before you wipe it off.
“You can lightly wipe the surface of the phone, and then make sure you dry it with a microfiber cloth,” in order to get rid of germs completely, she said. Just make sure the cloth is only used once, then wash it before you use it again.
But of course, a lot of cleaning products like disinfectant wipes are selling out at the moment. If you encounter this issue, Khubchandani suggested filling a spray bottle with simple rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, which you could then wipe away with a single-use cloth. (It’s not the preferred method of disinfecting a surface, but fine in a pinch.)
“Those are the two cheapest if you don’t find the wipes,” he said. “Just keep it in the restroom. Wipe your phone with it after you touch it.”
And make sure you’re sanitizing regularly: “Practice cleaning the phone,” Khubchandani said. “Make it a four-or-five-times-a-day ritual. And clean your personal spaces with disinfectants. Clean your desk, your computer, your phone. Everyone’s scared, but they need to pay attention to their own practices [to prevent spread]. Sometimes, we miss the most obvious things ― like cleaning our own desk, washing hands ― when we’re overly anxious.”
So, to recap: Use wipes on your phone, and follow up with a microfiber cloth if you really want the best results. And most importantly, continue to wash your hands when you interact with others and touch surfaces like your phone. Disinfect your personal spaces and office space, too. Practicing good hygiene is one of the best defenses against most illnesses like coronavirus.