Calling All Germs: Your Phone Is Dirtier Than You Think
If you’re someone who avoids touching a public toilet at all costs, it may be unsettling to know you’re pressing 10 times more bacteria to your face every time you make a phone call.
And it’s not just bacteria. Our touchscreen gunk is actually extensive enough to build a profile of your lifestyle: Do you spend a lot of time outdoors? Dye your hair? Drink coffee? Like spicy food? Prefer wine over beer? The phone dirt knows. A team at UC San Diego recentlydetermined all that from the grime that gloms on to our devices. Here’s the lowdown on whether those germs are dangerous, and what to do about them.
Why are our phones so filthy?
We touch our phones constantly, rest them on germ-covered surfaces, hand them off to others and generally keep them in warm places that bacteria love, from the palms of our unwashed hands to pockets that also hold cash and, in the case of many a purse, old wrappers, receipts and plain old trash. And, of course, the one we’re all guilty of — we use phones and tablets in the bathroom.
Much like our keyboards — the other subtle petri dish in our lives — we rarely think to clean them. We think we’ll skip having lunch at our desks.
Everything has germs on it, though. Can these ones actually make me sick?
Since you’ve likely been using a smartphone for years without contracting the Black Plague, it’s easy to resort to what-doesn’t-kill-you logic, and maybe so. But some microbiologists warn that infectious diseases can indeed be transferred from your finger to the glass on your screen, according the Wall Street Journal, and some hazardous ones can survive there for several days. In a British studyof 90 devices, two contained the bacteria responsible for E. coli and staph infections.
You’re more likely to catch something less dramatic, such as the flu, pink eye or other infections spread easily through touch or air, which is still troubling.
How should I clean my phone?
Don’t use soap and water on a washcloth, and avoid glass cleaners like Windex or alcohol-based cleaners like Wet Wipes, which can damage the screen. Microsoft says eyeglass cleaner is fine for their products.
Try a soft cloth with an alcohol-free, antibacterial spray like Whoosh, or wipes made for electronics like Wireless Wipes or cleansing towelettes from Sephora. Pay special attention to the home button, which is the grimiest part, and give everything a few minutes to dry off completely before putting the case back on.
Aside from a quick wipe every so often, try cutting down on habits contributing to the filth. Namely, stop using your phone or tablet in bathrooms. You’ll also be much better off if you try not to set it down on public countertops and avoid passing it to friends when you can’t wait to show them one of those great carpool karaoke videos.