You can still remember the day your iPhone 4 arrived in the mail. As you lifted the stunning smartphone from its minimalist packaging, you ran your fingers along the sleek, glass-coated LCD display. You delighted in the cold weight of the new stainless-steel band and marveled at the efficient design of the phone's tiny microphones and built-in 5-megapixel camera with LED flash.
Then your toddler found it.
Could that really be Cheetos dust lodged in the microphone? Why is there a fluorescent blue Play-Doh crumb in the headphone jack? And why do all of your photos look like they were taken from the inside of a Vaseline jar?
Cell phones, particularly the new touchscreen models, are notoriously filthy. Fingerprints, dust, earwax nuggets (!) and other visible grime are only the tip of the icky iceberg. According to a widely publicized, semi-scientific study by a British cell phone retailer, cell phones are home to more potentially harmful bacteria than doorknobs, computer keyboards, and yes, even toilet seats [source: Dial-A-Phone]. Doctoral students at Stanford University further warn that infectious microbes on the surface of a smartphone -- including staph bacteria and the seasonal flu -- have an excellent chance of making their way to your eyes, nose and mouth [source: Calvan]. Lovely.
Cleaning a cell phone can be intimidating at first. Can you crack open the case without voiding your warranty? Should you spritz a smudged LCD screen with Windex or is a dry cloth the way to go? And what about those bacteria? Before you attack your $200 BlackBerry with a can of Lysol or invest in a stylish surgical mask, read our tips on the safest way to keep your cell phone spotless and sanitary.
Cell Phone Cleaning Tips
The most important tip for cleaning your cell phone is to be gentle. When you're choosing the tools and products to clean your device, imagine that you're preparing to groom a freshly hatched chick. Swabs and cloths should be soft and lint-free. Cleansers should be pure and mild. And unless it's absolutely necessary, don't open up the case. Not only will you void your warranty on some models, but you're likely to cause more problems than you solve.
Let's start with tips for cleaning a smudged, touchscreen display. Your hands, hair and face are coated with oils that rub off easily onto your cell phone surface, especially if you text while eating pizza. First, let's cover the "don'ts."
- Don't use Windex or any other glass cleaner with ammonia. The harsh chemicals will damage an LCD display over time.
- Don't use a paper towel - not even a wet one -- because the rough fibers can scratch the display surface. Use a microfiber cloth like the one that came with your glasses.
- Don't spray anything directly on your device. Water and electronics don't mix. Lightly moisten a cloth and wipe it down [source: Yang].
There are plenty of disposable wipes on the market designed to both clean and disinfect cell phone surfaces. But if you want to save money, simply moisten a cloth with a prepared mix of 60 percent water and 40 percent isopropyl alcohol, available at any drug store [source: Captain]. Isopropyl alcohol evaporates quickly as it disinfects, ensuring that no moisture seeps into your phone's circuitry.
Now let's clean up those tiny crumbs and dust specs that can clog microphone slots and jam keys on a conventional cell phone. A wipe-down with the same moistened microfiber cloth is a good start. For harder-to-reach places, moisten the tip of a cotton swab and gently work away at encrusted crud. Another solution is to buy a can of compressed air (the kind for cleaning computer hardware) and give a few blasts to problem areas [source: Thompson].
If you like your cleaning products to be as high-tech as your devices, go for one of the new gadgets that use pulses of UV light to destroy surface bacteria. The Violight Cell Phone Sanitizer comes from the same folks who make the handy toothbrush sanitizer. Or you can get a small UV wand that flips open like a cell phone and claims to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria after 10 seconds of exposure [source: ThinkGeek].
For lots more information on cell phones and handheld gadgets, see the links on the next page.
- Caina Calvin, Bobby. "Talk about going viral: Touch-screen devices can harbor flu germs." The Sacramento Bee. October 14, 2010http://www.sacbee.com/2010/10/14/3103164/talk-about-going-viral-touch-screen.html
- Captain, Timothy. "How to clean your 7 favorite gadgets." Popular Mechanics. September 1, 2007 http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/how-to/tips/4220886
- Dial-A-Phone. "The Average Mobile Phone Contains More Bacteria Than a Toilet Seat." January 18, 2007http://www.prweb.com/releases/2007/1/prweb497735.htm
- ThinkGeek. "UV Disinfectant Wand." http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/security/8f84/
- Thompson, Cheryl. "How to Clean Electronics." DIY Life. October 19, 2010http://www.diylife.com/2010/10/19/how-to-clean-electronics/
- Yang, Felisa. "Clean your LCD without damaging it." CNET. April 20, 2005 http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-10166_7-6209355-1.html