How to Sanitize Your Phone Without Damaging It

sanitize smartphone
Photo by nikkimeel / Shutterstock.com

You probably know that your mobile phone is nothing less than your connection to the world and home to precious data. It’s also likely to be an (ugh) breeding ground for all manner of bacteria and viruses. That includes the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

If you’re like me, though, you probably don’t know how to clean and sanitize your device in a way that doesn’t damage it. You’ll find plenty of articles on the web hawking erroneous or possibly harmful information. Fortunately, three recent bulletins — from Apple, Samsung and Consumer Reports — have cleared up a lot of confusion.

The main takeaway — contrary to previous advice you may have seen — is this: It’s safe to wipe the screen and body of your iPhone or Pixel devices with alcohol-based wipes.

Still, be careful with rubbing alcohol itself, warns CNET:

“It can strip the oleophobic and hydrophobic coatings that keep oil and water from damaging your display and other ports.”

How to sanitize your smartphone

The core of Apple’s advice for disinfecting iPhones is:

“Using a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your iPhone.”

Apple offers more detailed cleaning instructions for its specific devices, but the following general advice applies to all models:

  • Shut down the device and unplug any cables before cleaning.
  • Avoid getting moisture in any of the openings.
  • Don’t use bleach.
  • Do not submerge devices in a cleaning solution.
  • Don’t use cleaning products like household cleaners or window cleaners.
  • Don’t use compressed air.

A Google representative confirmed to Consumer Reports that it’s also safe to clean Google devices (including Pixel smartphones) with isopropyl alcohol wipes.

Samsung’s site says you can clean Galaxy smartphones as well as tablets and watches with an alcohol-based solution that contains more than 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. But you must apply the disinfectant to a microfiber cloth rather than applying a liquid directly to a device.

How to sanitize your phone case

If you use a smartphone case or cover, CR’s chief scientific officer, James Dickerson, says you can remove it from your phone and wash it in the sink with soap and water.

Don’t worry — the CDC says, soap and water remove more germs than alcohol-based hand sanitizers do, as we report in “Beware These 7 Hand-Washing Mistakes.”

Of course, you can’t use this option if your case has a built-in battery.

Why you should sanitize your smartphone

Consumer Reports says:

“Studies have shown that smartphones are a breeding ground for germs and other pathogens, making it important to keep them clean.”

It stands to reason that we can spread the coronavirus by touching hard surfaces harboring the virus, which could happen, say, after someone infected sneezed into their hand and touched a doorknob. Research indicates that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for hours to days.

To learn more, check out “How Long Does Coronavirus Live on Surfaces?

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