For most of us, it’s easy enough to heed advice to avoid gripping stairwell railings. But what about the phones we handle all day? Yes, your phone is covered in everyday germs (a “portable petri dish,” as one professor recently put it). This sort of concern has caused some media outlets to advise people to clean their phones to slow the coronavirus’s spread.
The CDC now recommends that you clean and disinfect “frequently touched surfaces” daily, including phones, desks, and keyboards. But unless your stuff may have come in contact with a droplet of mucus or saliva from a potentially infected person, we don’t think you need to worry about cleaning your personal gear multiple times a day. “Unless you hand your phone to someone else, that’s probably the least likely thing to get contaminated by someone else,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “The surfaces you need to be concerned about are surfaces that are touched by other people.”
Experts don’t yet know how long the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces. While an analysis of 22 studies found that other coronaviruses are able to live on metal, glass, or plastic for anywhere from a few hours to an outside estimate of nine days, there’s no reason to believe that you’ll contract the new virus by transferring it to your own headphones. “Remember, there is no real evidence that transmission is occurring outside of the realm of person [to] person,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
More important than sanitizing your own possessions all day long is being careful when interacting with objects touched regularly by other humans in quick succession. “An ATM machine has almost certainly been touched continuously by hundreds of people. The PIN pad at your grocery store is being touched by hundreds of people,” said Swaminathan. If you touch one of those things, use hand sanitizer, or wash your hands as soon as you can. (If you are still using cash, it might be a good time to get used to contactless payment methods.)
Because the virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends frequent and thorough handwashing as the best protection against infection. Murphy said to focus on that rather than scrutinizing your personal effects. “The virus is unstable outside of the human or animal body,” he added.
You probably shouldn’t use a dripping antibacterial sheet to wipe everything down. Not all of your gadgets can handle moisture, abrasives, or solvents, and your warranty may be voided if you use a prohibited cleaner on a device.
Here are some basic instructions for disinfecting your gear without damaging it.
How to disinfect a phone or a tablet
- Always unplug your phone or tablet before attempting to clean it.
- Don’t spray your device directly, and avoid getting drips of moisture in any openings.
- Prep with a dry, soft cloth to remove debris and fingerprints. Never use paper fiber materials like a tissue or a paper towel, as they’re more abrasive and can leave scratches.
- Different phones can handle different cleaners, so consult the manufacturer’s website. For the Pixel 3a, Google recommends using “ordinary household soap or cleaning wipes” as needed, and it doesn’t specify restrictions on alcohol-based wipes. (We haven’t tested this ourselves yet.) Apple just updated its support page to say that you can clean your iPhone with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipes or Clorox disinfectant wipes.
- If you’re concerned about removing the oil-resistant coating, or if you want to go to town with some disinfectant, use a phone case or a screen protector and wipe it down with either a soft cloth dampened with a little rubbing alcohol or a disinfecting wipe. (You can throw the case or screen protector away if it starts to deteriorate.)
How to clean shared computers, keyboards, remote controls, and mice
- Always unplug your devices (and remove batteries if possible) before you attempt to clean them.
- Never spray your laptop directly.
- Never use paper fiber materials like a tissue or a paper towel, as they’re more abrasive and can leave scratches.
- Again, different computer manufacturers have different rules about what cleaners are allowed. You should be able to wipe down the outside case and the keyboard with an alcohol-based disinfectant wipe. Let them dry completely. (Lenovo suggests using a soft cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol to clean the keyboard, making sure not to drip liquid into any openings.) Apple just updated its support page to say that you can clean your Apple products with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipes or Clorox disinfectant wipes. You may consider getting a wipeable cover for your laptop so you can disinfect it without damaging the machine.