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Your phone probably follows you everywhere you go. Your bed, the kitchen, the store, public transportation, work, the coffee shop, the doctor’s office—if you’ve been there your phone has, too. And it’s probably in your hand for much of that time, receiving continuous deposits of germs and bacteria as you scroll through Instagram or TikTok. So it’s safe to assume that there are some gross things living on your phone.
But just how gross are the things living on your phone? And what’s the best way to get the gross off? To the science-mobile, we go!
We recruited four iFixit employees and and a microbiologist to conduct a highly scientific* test to learn about the bacteria our phones gather—and to determine the most effective method for getting rid of them. You can watch the test on our Youtube channel.
Our guest microbiologist, Jason Lorenz, is a fourth-year student studying Microbiology at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, California. After examining each of our test plates under a microscope, he concluded that none of the bacteria in our samples were inherently harmful. He found pseudomonas, staphylococcus, and streptococcus—which are all common bacteria that live on all sorts of surfaces, including human skin! They don’t typically cause problems unless you have an underlying condition. But they’re still gross, and it’s still a good idea to clean them, just to be safe.
How to Disinfect Your Phone
Each of our
subjects coworkers tested a different method of disinfecting phones. As we saw in our test, our PhoneSoap UV light sanitizer was the most effective. The iFixit Screen Saver looked like it had some effect, but there was actually still a lot of bacteria left, and the (questionably clean) microfiber cloth seemed to actually add more bacteria to the phone.
Common disinfecting wipes are antimicrobial, which means they don’t always kill viruses and molds. Lorenz suggested using a cleaner with isopropyl alcohol, which is commonly found in glasses cleaner, since it is most effective in killing molds, viruses, and bacteria. In fact, he said, the best way to clean your phone is to use two methods, because sometimes the first one won’t get rid of everything. You can try a disinfecting wipe followed by some glasses cleaner, or putting your phone in a UV sanitation chamber after wiping it down with isopropyl alcohol. Choose your own phone cleaning adventure!
It is worth noting that until last week, Apple and other manufacturers warned against using chemicals like alcohol and disinfectants on your phone, because they would degrade the oleophobic coating. This layer protects your phone from oils and fingerprints, causing liquids to bead on the surface when you spill them on your phone. The coating will start to naturally degrade after a year or two of consistent use. Apple is now saying that using disinfecting wipes, or a solution with 70% isopropyl alcohol, to clean your phone won’t actually destroy the oleophobic coating. Feel free to disinfect to your heart’s content! And if you think that your phone has lost its coating, don’t worry—we’ve got a guide on how to reapply it!
How to Restore or Apply an Oleophobic Coating
How to apply or restore an oleophobic coating to a smartphone or tablet touchscreen. Also suitable for watches and eyeglasses.
TL;DR: your phone is bound to collect germs and bacteria. While most of those germs and bacteria are pretty harmless, you should still be proactive about cleaning your phone regularly, using safe methods that won’t damage it. But most importantly, you should be very proactive about washing your hands.
*Full disclosure: Our test was conducted in our video studio using a children’s science fair kit, so it is not the best example of scientific experimentation, but we did learn a lot! ↩