Disinfecting phones: A how-to for COVID-19 prevention
Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., R.N., CRNA on April 17, 2020 — Written by Zawn Villines
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to clean commonly touched surfaces regularly. Throughout the day, most people will likely touch a cell phone multiple times. So, disinfecting a phone could help to slow or prevent the spread of infection.
A phone may fall on bathroom floors, come into contact with tiny droplets from sneezes and coughs, and encounter every type of germ a person’s hand does. But unlike the hands, phones are impossible to wash with soap and water.
Therefore, cell phones are a potentially dangerous source of viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.
Read on to find out the best way to disinfect a cell phone.
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What to use to disinfect phones
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have approved a comprehensive list of products that can safely disinfect household objects, including cell phones.
All products on the list meet the EPA’s criteria for use against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but only if a person follows the manufacturer’s instructions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using a solution that contains at least 70% alcohol to disinfect phones. Some products that meet these requirements include:
- alcohol-based disinfectant wipes or sprays, containing at least 70% alcohol
- diluted rubbing alcohol
- some alcohol pads doctors use for sanitizing skin before injections and other procedures
People should follow the phone manufacturer’s instructions and disinfection guides. For example, Apple and Samsung recommend using Clorox wipes, 70% alcohol wipes, or 70% alcohol solution on a microfiber cloth.
To reduce the risk of damaging the phone, wipes may be a better alternative than sprays. By using a spray, the solution may pool on the phone and cause internal damage.
What not to use to disinfect phones
Many of the products on the EPA’s recommended list contain ammonia, bleach, lactic acid, or hydrogen peroxide. While these can safely clean surfaces and phone cases, they are not suitable for electronics such as cell phones.
It is advisable to avoid using the following products:
- general purpose household cleaners, especially those that contain bleach
- makeup remover
- antibacterial wipes that do not contain 70% alcohol or another product on the EPA’s list
- wound cleaners
It is also unsafe to submerge a phone in water for any period of time, even if it completely dries thereafter.
Some cleaning products can create dangerous chemicals or odors when people mix them. Never mix products containing ammonia with those that contain bleach.
The safest option is to pick a single disinfectant and stick with it, so that remnants of one disinfectant do not later interact with a new disinfectant.
How to disinfect
To disinfect a phone, carefully read the instructions on the product label. Some spray products may require the solution to air dry for as long as 10 minutes.
If the phone dries before the recommended saturation time on the label, disinfecting may not be as effective. However, the CDC report that hospital grade sanitizers may work in as little as 1 minute.
Disinfecting a phone can spread germs to the hands, and from the hands back to the phone. Therefore, it is best to wash hands before and after disinfecting.
A guide for disinfecting a phone is as follows:
- Remove the phone from any casing and power it down.
- Sanitizers may not work as well when a phone is greasy or dirty. Therefore, a person should wipe the phone with a dry or damp cloth first to remove all dirt.
- Thoroughly wipe the phone to cover the entire surface in disinfectant. Avoid spraying disinfectant into the phone’s charging port. If this area is wet, it can damage the phone or even cause electric shocks.
- Allow the disinfectant to be in contact with the phone for the recommended amount of time.
- Wipe down the phone with a cloth once more.
- Next, repeat the previous steps with any cases and covers. Leave the phone case and phone separate until the disinfectant has been in contact for the recommended amount of time.
How often to disinfect
CDC recommend disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces, such as phones, doorknobs, and remote controls, daily.
In some situations, it may be appropriate to disinfect more frequently.
Doing so can greatly reduce exposure to viruses, bacteria, and other dangerous sources of infection. Consider disinfecting a phone in the following circumstances:
- after another person uses or borrows it
- after sneezing or coughing while holding the phone
- after dropping it, especially if it falls outside of the household or on a potentially contaminated surface
- after using the phone in public
If someone in the house is sick, consider storing the phone in a plastic bag and wiping it down after each use to reduce the risk of contamination.
Medical professionals may want to keep their phones away from patients or disinfect their phones very frequently.
A 2015 study found that 44 out of 53 doctors’ phones contained potentially dangerous bacteria, suggesting they may be a source of contamination in the examination and operating rooms.