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by Alina Bradford

Your phone is germier than you realize. Here’s how to get it virus-free—without damaging it in the process.

Phones are gross little magnets for germs and bacteria. They can be up to ten times as dirty as a toilet seat, and infectious disease specialists estimate that coronavirus can stick to surfaces for anywhere from two hours to 48 hours. Now just think about how often you touch your phone or lift it to your face. Ew. That’s why it’s not enough to know how to clean your phone—you also need to know how to disinfect your phone.

But disinfecting your device isn’t as easy as grabbing any old cleaning product and having at it. You need to pick one of the best phone cleaners for the job, follow a few specific steps, and avoid some pitfalls along the way. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a germy phone…or a broken one.

Choose the right cleanser

You need a cleanser that not only disinfects but is also gentle on your phone. After all, you don’t want to damage your device in the process. The problem is, it’s hard to find a cleaner that delivers on both of those things.

“Remember: Your smart devices and computers are delicate gadgets,” says technology expert Burton Kelso. “While it’s tempting to use antibacterial bleach wipes or sprays on your computers, keyboard, and smart devices, you want to avoid them. The abrasive chemicals can leave scratches on your screens and wear down the protective coating on your devices.”

Specifically, cleaners that contain alcohol, bleach, or vinegar can wear down touch screens, making them less sensitive and responsive. While you should always avoid cleansers that contain bleach since they can damage other areas of your phone, you can use other effective disinfectants as long as you take one simple precaution: Put a screen protector on your phone. That way, you can protect your screen while protecting yourself; plus, a screen protector will help limit other types of potential damage, as well. Look to top-rated favorites like Lysol or Clorox Wipes, or something like Cleanwell’s Botanical Disinfecting Wipes, which made the EPA’s list of disinfectants suitable for use against coronavirus. The CDC also has a tool you can use to see if your cleanser has been tested and confirmed to kill the germs that cause COVID-19.

How to disinfect your phone safely

Now that you have the cleanser, it’s time to wipe down your phone. Follow these steps:

  1. Power down your phone, and make sure it is unplugged.
  2. Spray the cleanser on a microfiber cloth. Kelso strongly recommends using a microfiber cloth instead of a paper towel. These cloths are absorbent but gentle on your tech. Paper towels, on the other hand, are surprisingly abrasive.
  3. Wipe down your phone, making sure to get into the edges of your phone’s case and around the nooks and crannies. Wipe the front, screen, back, and edges.
  4. Finally, put down your phone and let the cleanser do its job. Check the back of the cleanser’s bottle to see how long it needs to sit on the surface to fully disinfect a non-porous surface. Not letting the solution dwell for long enough is one of the common ways people use disinfectants wrong.
  5. After the wait, wipe down your phone with a dry microfiber cloth or let it air-dry.

Mistakes to avoid

The biggest mistake you can make when cleaning your phone? Spraying cleanser directly onto it. When you do that, you don’t have control over where the spray goes, and the cleanser can get into the port holes or microphone holes and cause damage to the inner workings of your phone. Just a little moisture damage can make your ports stop working, your screen glitch, or completely kill your phone.

How often you should clean your phone

You should clean your phone when you get home after going to work, the store, or any other location. The FCC recommends cleaning your phone at least once per day—and that’s the bare minimum. Here are more things you should be cleaning every day from now on.

Faster ways to disinfect

If this all sounds like a lot of trouble, there are some shortcuts. You could also use a product like Microban 24 Hour Multipurpose Cleaner that keeps on killing germs over a 24-hour period, so you can clean your phone less often. Or you could get a sanitizing device that automatically disinfects your phone, like PhoneSoap or UV8LED. These gadgets use ultraviolet light to kill germs in mere minutes. All you have to do is set your phone inside of the device and wait. Another option would be to get an antibacterial phone case that kills germs as soon as they come into contact with your phone, so you don’t need to clean it unless it gets visibly dirty. Now that you know how to disinfect your phone, check out these other cell phone accessories you’ll end up using every day.

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