How Often Should You Be Disinfecting Your Phone During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Who knows what could be living on your phone's screen?

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phone screen cleaning
Photo: Getty / d3sign

As our navigation systems, stereos, cookbooks and lifelines to friends and family (especially during the pandemic), our phones have practically become an extra appendage. Since they're always in tow, though, our phones are likely to be covered in nearly just as much bacteria as our hands—and maybe more now that many of us are on a dedicated and consistent hand-washing mission.

University of Arizona research found that the average American's smartphone is about 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat, and considering we check our phones about 96 (!) times every day, there are dozens of opportunities to introduce potentially harmful germs into our system.

We're still learning more about how long COVID-19 can live on surfaces, and if it can live in large enough "viral loads" to infect someone when on said surfaces, but disinfecting your phone properly is good practice to prevent the growth of any viral or bacterial pathogens. (Yep, including fecal bacteria, which was found on 16% of phones swabbed for a study performed by University of London scientists.)

How to Keep Your Phone Clean

Before we dive into how—and how often—to disinfect your phone, a few general phone hygiene best practices:

If possible, leave your phone in a secure place or in your pocket or purse when grocery shopping. Instead of using your Notes app for your list, write it on a piece of paper instead that can then be thrown out after the shop.

Print recipes or have your phone or Alexa read the instructions out loud to you so you don't have to click and scroll while cooking with ingredients that potentially add foodborne illness-causing particles to your phone (like raw meat).

It likely goes without saying, but don't bring your phone into—or use your phone in—the bathroom. Flushing can propel germs up to 10 inches above the toilet seat, according to a study in the Journal of Hospital Infections.

How Often and How to Disinfect Your Phone

The CDC recommends disinfecting "high-touch surfaces," including phones, keyboards, faucets and light switches once each day during the coronavirus pandemic, plus whenever visibly dirty. Here's how to do so safely, and in ways approved by Samsung and Apple to keep your phone running strong:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Turn off your phone.
  3. If your phone is in a protective case, remove it as you clean.
  4. Wipe each surface and the edges of the phone with a microfiber cloth (such as Scotch-Brite 3-in-1 Microfiber Cleaning Cloth; $2.99, to clean—remember, that's different from sanitizing or disinfecting.
  5. Use a Lysol disinfecting wipe or a microfiber cloth sprayed with DIY sanitizing solution to swipe over every surface and all edges, avoiding the ports to keep them dry. Then swipe all surfaces of the phone case.
  6. Allow the phone and case to dry for at least 4 minutes.
  7. Wipe the phone and case dry with a paper towel or clean microfiber cloth (not the one you used earlier).
  8. Wash your hands.
  9. Place the case back on and turn your phone back on.
  10. As a bonus protective step, not as a replacement for the disinfecting steps above, a UV sanitizer (such as PhoneSoap Wireless; $99.95, can also be utilized.
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