How to disinfect your smartphone: Tech Support

Welcome to Tech Support, a segment where I, Dan Howley, serve as your intrepid guide through the sometimes confusing, often frustrating, world of personal technology. 

Here, I answer all of your most pressing questions about the various gizmos, gadgets, and services you use in your everyday life.

Have a question of your own? Reach me on Twitter at @danielhowley or email me at [email protected].

Now, on to your questions.

This week’s dilemma:

“How do I disinfect my smartphone, smartwatch and headphones?”

With states in the U.S. beginning to reopen for business and more Americans venturing back out into public spaces, it’s paramount that people remain vigilant in fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

Washing your hands, not touching your face, wearing a mask, and appropriate social distancing measures are all high on the list of steps to take to avoid the catching or passing the virus on to others.

But what about your most used devices like your smartphone, smartwatch, or headphones?

Yes, your gadgets are, to be blunt, a cesspool that you carry with you all day. And while there’s no word on how long the virus may survive on smartphones, a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that the coronavirus can survive for several hours on plastic and stainless steel surfaces, both of which are found in most of our smart devices.

So how can you clean your favorite gadgets?

Since there are a whole slew of smartphone makers around the world, let’s focus on the two largest here in the U.S. — Apple (AAPL) and Samsung. Prior to the pandemic, both companies recommended consumers gently wipe down their devices with lint-free cloths, avoiding harsh cleaners, as doing so was said to damage the exterior of your pricy device.

16 March 2020, Bavaria, Kempten: A young man disinfects his smartphone with a paper towel and disinfectant. Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa (Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images)

But with the pandemic came new guidelines.

According to Apple, you can clean your iPhone or iPad using a standard Clorox disinfecting wipe or a wipe with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Before you dig in, though, you’ll want to power down the phone.

Wipe down the handset avoiding getting liquid into any openings like the Lighting cable port or speaker. Dry it off, and you’re set.

Samsung offers the same advice for cleaning its Galaxy line of phones or tablets. Don’t douse your phone or tablet with alcohol or dunk it in a bowl of cleaning solution. Doing so will damage it. And DO NOT use bleach.

If you’ve got a smartwatch like the Apple Watch or Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, you can also use a wipe or 70% isopropyl alcohol in the same way you would on your smartphone. Again, don’t drench the watch, and take care not to use cleaner on fabric or leather watch bands. Doing that will ruin them.

As for your headphones, Apple suggests cleaning the AirPods and AirPods Pro with alcohol or a wipe, and avoiding the speaker mesh. And don’t drown them in cleaner.

Samsung, however, suggests avoiding cleaning agents like alcohol or soapy water to prevent getting either into the speakers. If you do choose to use alcohol, you won’t be able to rely on Samsung’s warranty if you still have one. Should you do so, though, you’d want to clean only the outside and avoid the speaker.

You might be asking yourself why you don’t just wear gloves whenever you leave the house to avoid getting any kind of pathogens on your devices. But that’s actually not how it works.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person shouldn’t use gloves because of the potential for cross contamination.

Picture yourself at the grocery store. You have your gloves on, are touching various surfaces like the shopping cart when you get a phone call. Pull out your phone with your glove, and bam, you’re transferring the bacteria and viruses from your glove to your device.

Get home and use your phone after taking off those gloves, and your hands will have been reexposed.

Your best bet is to simply wash your hands often, and try keeping your device relatively clean.

And stick to the guidelines provided by Apple and Samsung to avoid seriously damaging your expensive toys.

Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at [email protected] or [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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