How to keep your smartphone clean during the coronavirus outbreak

Your phone can spread germs between you and other people. Here are some ways to keep it clean and disinfected.

The coronavirus could make remote work the norm, what businesses need to know

Keeping your smartphone clean is a good idea under normal circumstances. But with the threat of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, a good cleaning is essential to protect yourself and other people from potentially getting infected. Let's look at some dos and don'ts for keeping your mobile phone as clean and germ-free as possible.

SEE: Coronavirus having major effect on tech industry beyond supply chain delays (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

The bad news and the good news on coronavirus spread

The coronavirus and similar viruses can persist on surfaces such as metal, glass, and plastic for up to nine days, according to a recent study by researchers in Germany as reported by Men's Health. But the virus can be inactivated within a minute through the use of certain surface disinfectant products.

How to clean an iPhone

In the past, Apple had discouraged users from cleaning an iPhone with alcohol or disinfectant wipes for fear of damaging the screen and coating. But with the coronavirus outbreak, Apple has updated its guidelines with more leeway. In the latest version of its support page on "How to clean your Apple products," the company now offers the following advice:

Is it OK to use a disinfectant on my Apple product?
Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple product, such as the display, keyboard, or other exterior surfaces. Don't use bleach. Avoid getting moisture in any opening, and don't submerge your Apple product in any cleaning agents. Don't use on fabric or leather surfaces.

To test this method, the Wall Street Journal's intrepid reporter Joanna Stern said she wiped the screen of a new iPhone 8 with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes a whopping 1,095 times. Even after all the wiping, the screen's coating was still alive and well.

Beyond the latest advice, Apple also provides the following cleaning tips:

  • Use only a soft, lint-free cloth. Avoid abrasive cloths, towels, paper towels, or similar items.
  • Avoid excessive wiping, which might cause damage.
  • Unplug all external power sources, devices, and cables.
  • Keep liquids away from the product, unless otherwise noted for specific products.
  • Don't get moisture into any openings.
  • Don't use aerosol sprays, bleaches, or abrasives.
  • Don't spray cleaners directly onto the item.

Though Apple's advice is geared toward iPhones (and iPads), you can adopt the same measures for other types and brands of mobile devices. As one example, Google offers a page on How to clean your Pixel phone's back and sides and How to clean your Pixel Case fabric.

Cleaning and sanitizing products for smartphones

Several phone cleaning and sanitizing products are available commercially. Typically, these take the form of containers into which you place your phone or wands that you pass over your device. Such products can be more gentle and safer than wipes and can more thoroughly clean every area of your phone. PhoneSoap 3 UV sanitizer is one product that neutralizes bacteria on your phone and lets you charge it at the same time.

"In addition to practicing standard infection prevention techniques like washing your hands and staying home if you're feeling sick, it is important to break the chain of transmission by killing the viruses and germs you have picked up throughout the day and transferred onto your phone, as it is the perfect instrument for transferring germs and bacteria," PhoneSoap's Earned Media Manager Kelli Sprunt said.

"While a disinfecting wipe with 70% isopropyl alcohol is good when nothing else is around, it doesn't get into all the nooks and crannies, and you have to be mindful of making sure none of the fluid leaks into the phone," Sprunt added. "Additionally, user error could get in the way of any actual sanitizing. It's important to never spray bottled household disinfecting liquids onto your phone, since these typically include ingredients that will damage the screen. Ultimately, we recommend giving your phone a deep UV-C light cleanse, using one of our PhoneSoap products, to give your phone a 99.99% reduction in bacteria 100% of the time."

Tips to keep your phone clean while using it

Beyond cleaning your phone, think about how you use it. During a typical conversation, you place your phone up to your ear where germs can potentially spread via face contact. During an outbreak such as coronavirus, try to use your phone on speaker or through a headset or earbuds whenever possible.

Sharing your phone with other people obviously is a more risky practice these days. If you must share your phone with someone else, ask that person to conduct the conversation via the speaker or a headset.

If you don't already enwrap your phone in a case, now is a good time to do so. Beyond using it to protect your phone, you can easily remove the case to thoroughly wash it as needed.

Finally, be careful where you place your phone, especially in public places. When you need to put your phone down or away, keep it on your person rather than placing it on a counter or other object in public.

For more suggestions on keeping your smartphone clean, check out CNET's article on "Keep coronavirus off your phone: How to effectively clean and disinfect your device" and ZDNet's piece on "Dirty iPhone? Here's one flu and coronavirus safeguard: Clean your device now."

Also see

Mature Woman With Laptop Working In Home Office Using Mobile Phone

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.