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Cell phones have been found in numerous studies to be hosts for numerous types of harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Our pervasive dependence on these devices requires careful thought about their potential as a means of transmitting dangerous pathogens.
Why you should be cleaning your phone regularly
Most people use their mobile devices as much for work as they do for leisure. These devices have found their ways into bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens in terms of our personal spaces, and also into workplaces that may be surprising when considered carefully.
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Healthcare workers’ use of cell phones is a major potential source of the transmission of infections between themselves, coworkers, and patients. For this reason, an increasing amount of data is being collected and interpreted regarding the types of pathogens found on cell phones.
Most of the work on this topic has focused on bacteria, but a recent study examining viruses, cell phones, and healthcare employee behavior produced alarming results. Viruses can live on cell phones, which means that hand sanitizing practices need to be observed after their use.
If we imagine someone checks their phone 80 times a day and washing their hands for the recommended 20 seconds after each usage, that would add about 27 minutes of handwashing to this person’s day. Some of the healthcare workers in the aforementioned study admitted to using cell phones in clinical settings and occasionally neglecting to sanitize their hands and their cell phones while interacting with patients.
These are healthcare workers, who have training on universal precaution, and who should be keenly aware of the risks of the pathogens living on cell phones. The average person may struggle with the realities of the necessity for cell phone hygiene to an even greater degree.
Given that people all over the world are fighting to keep their homes and themselves as hygienic as possible because of COVID-19, the topic of cell phone hygiene is a timely one. As people are wearing masks and gloves, and bleaching down their houses several times a day, keeping cell phones clean is something everyone should be concerned with. There is a lot of data about how long COVID-19 lasts on different surfaces and how it is transmitted, but because there is still much to be learned about the disease, preventative measures about what is already known could prove to be more helpful.
Evidence points to the fact that cell phones carry lots of pathogens. Pathogens are fought off by our immune systems, and during a pandemic, there is obviously a need to be exceptionally careful about exposure to pathogens that our immune systems are not equipped to handle. Hand hygiene is a key element of protecting oneself against COVID-19, but keeping our mobile devices as clean as possible is also a way to prevent the spread of disease.
Cell phone hygiene
According to experts, it is important to both clean and disinfect surfaces. Cleaning involves wiping dust off and washing with soap and water. This allows for the outer layer of biological material that protects pathogens to be eliminated prior to using a chemical to disinfect and kill the pathogens.
Without cleaning, using chemicals to disinfect is essentially fruitless. The challenge in applying this two-step process to an electronic device such as your cell phone is that both water and chemical cleaning solutions may damage your device, or cause a further build-up of debris depending on the type of cleaning tools, agents, and also the type of phone. Below is step-by-step advice on how to safely clean your phone.
6 ways to clean your phone
- Consult your user manual for any instructions specific to your particular phone. Some phones tolerate certain chemicals that others don’t. Also, a safer solution would be to wipe it down with a damp cloth than others, etc.
- Remove the case and power the phone off. You can clean the case separately.
- Wipe the phone down. This will remove the biofilm that traps germs onto and on your device. Pay attention to the crevices and the screen as well. Use a soft cloth, and if your phone allows, you may dampen the cloth first using soap and water.
- Use a UV light designed for cleaning electronics. This may be a good investment and a fireproof way to clean your phone if you are worried about damage over time.
- Disinfect the phone using cell phone cleaning wipes, 70% alcohol wipes (for iPhone users), Lysol or Clorox wipes.
- Dry the phone with a microfiber cloth.
7 things to avoid while cleaning your phone
- Do not spray your phone or submerge your phone in water or chemicals.
- Avoid getting the openings in your phone wet, as they are sensitive and can destroy your phone if exposed to moisture too much.
- Avoid cleaning your phone with chemicals such as bleach or alcohol that is too highly concentrated. As stated above, wipes and soap and water are the way to go.
- Avoid cleaning your phone with paper-towel. This can get stuck in the crevices of your phone and attract more dirt and debris.
- Blowing into your phone to get rid of dust and particles is actually harmful and should also be avoided.
- Exposing your phone to extreme temperatures such as putting it in a freezer or blow-drying it in order to “kill” germs is also not the best idea. These extremes can cause your hardware to malfunction.
- Cleaning your phone without realizing that it is recontaminated immediately when you use it with unclean hands or place it on an unclean surface.
These steps (and avoided missteps) can be followed once or twice daily under normal circumstances to ensure that your phone does not become overridden with germs, potentially exposing you to illness.
In the case of a pandemic, especially for those who are essential workers, or are at higher risk of exposure through other extenuating circumstances, these steps can be followed as often as necessary to ensure that your phone does not carry the virus to you, your loved ones, or an unsuspecting stranger.
Handwashing, regular house cleaning, and awareness of the dangers that lurk within our favorite devices are all ways of staying safe during perilous times (and normal times).