4 Things You Need to Know—Right Now—If You Use Disinfecting Wipes to Clean Your Phone

updated Mar 9, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Odds are you’ve heard by now that your phone is… well, kind of disgusting. Here are some quick statistics: According to TIME, most cell phones are dirtier than a toilet seat—and in one study, high schoolers phones were found to have more than 17,000 gene copies on their phones’ screens. Phones are gross (even if you don’t bring your phone into the bathroom).

When it comes to getting rid of germs quickly, most of us reach for a container of disinfecting wipes. They’re effective, easy-to-use, and get rid of germs and messes quickly. But should we be using them on our phones? I know I’ve been known to whip out a pack of disinfecting wipes when my laptop or cell phone seems particularly gross. Every time, I think, “this is probably fine” and hope for the best.

Representatives from Clorox, a leading disinfecting wipe brand, say they are unable to promote the use of Clorox products (including its disinfecting wipes) on electronic devices. When used as directed according to the instructions on the label, disinfecting wipes will effectively kill germs on non-porous surfaces, but you risk damaging your device in the process.

Apple’s support page for cleaning its products suggests that Clorox wipes are just fine for cleaning the hard, non-porous surfaces of your iPhone, though, along with any other disinfectant wipe of 70 percent alcohol or more. Apple’s advice suggest you should avoid getting moisture in any opening, and don’t ever submerge your Apple product in any cleaning agents.

Whether you’re team wipe or not, here are four things you should know, including safer ways to disinfect your phone.

Disinfecting Wipes May Contain Chemicals That Can Damage Smartphones’ Screens

Leanne Stapf, Chief Operating Officer of The Cleaning Authority, tells me that these types of wipes we all know and love often contain chemicals that can damage our smartphones.

Disinfectant wipes can contain “harsh chemicals including vinegar, bleach, and alcohol which should not be used on the glass of smartphones,” Stapf says. “Phones now have an oleophobic coating that works to prevent fingerprint marks. Harsh chemicals, such as those in disinfectant wipes, can break down this coating.” If you put a protective cover like this one over your screen, you can wipe it down with less worry about causing damage.

The non-glass parts of your phone—like the back, case, and even the charger—are less likely to be damaged by disinfecting solutions. In fact, in a 2017 article that has since been archived, Apple recommended that both Lysol wipes and Clorox wipes can be used to clean Apple computers keyboards, mouses, and trackpads. Importantly, though, the instructions recommend using wipes only after you’ve wrung out any excess liquid. However, since brands like Clorox don’t officially promote or recommend the use of wipes on electronics, you’re still taking a risk.

Credit: progressman

The Dampness Of The Wipes Is An Issue, Too

Even if you haven’t considered the chemicals in the wipes as an issue before, the liquid solution that saturates the wipes (something you probably have noticed) can be a problem, too. You wouldn’t put a liquid-soaked rag on your smartphone, would you? Then you probably shouldn’t use a wipe, either.

“Aside from the chemicals, the dampness of the wipes can damage a phone as well. It is always best to apply any disinfectant to a lint-free cloth first to help reduce the amount of liquid coming in contact with the device,” Stapf says.

Apple makes this clear in its instructions for disinfecting a computer keyboard and trackpad: “Do not use an extremely damp disinfectant wipe to clean the area,” and “Do not allow the liquid from the disinfectant wipe to sit or pool on the area being disinfected for a long amount of time.” If you know the risks and want to use a disinfecting wipe on your phone, always squeeze and wring out excess liquid before using the wipe on any electronic device.

Remember, though, that any disinfecting solution requires extended dwell time (the time the solution spends in contact with the surface) to work effectively. For instance, the instructions on a container of Clorox wipes specify that you should use enough wipes for the treated surface to remain visibly wet for four minutes. 

You Should Be Using A Microfiber Cloth to Wipe Instead 

How do you keep your phone clean and relatively germ-free if disinfecting wipes aren’t ideal? Stapf explains that cleaning regularly with a cloth is the best option—and if you are using a liquid disinfectant, then be very cautious of the amount of liquid that’s going on the phone.

Because disinfecting wipes can be abrasive, microfiber is your best bet. “Be sure to use a microfiber cloth that is lint free when wiping down your phone to avoid scratches and help pick up any dirt,” she says. Stapf recommends using a diluted solution of rubbing alcohol, applying it to your microfiber cloth to prevent direct application of liquid to your electronics.

It’s worth noting that diluting your disinfectant does impact its effectiveness. The CDC warns that alcohol’s effectiveness at killing germs “drops sharply when diluted below 50% concentration,” and that the optimal concentration for killing bacteria is between 60 to 90 percent. Keep in mind that when you buy rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol) at the store, it’s already diluted with water in a concentration indicated on the label (commonly 70 percent or 90-91 percent).

Ultimately, There Are Smarter Ways to Disinfect a Phone

If you want to be as safe as possible, it probably makes the most sense to avoid using liquid disinfectants directly on your device at all. Here are two smart options:

Cover your phone in a full-protection case that covers the entire device, including the screen, and includes removable plugs for the ports, like Otterbox’s Defender series. These cases will help keep germs away from your device itself, and can be removed and disinfected safely with disinfecting wipes or other liquid disinfectants. If your full-protection case is waterproof, like Lifeproof’s Fre case, you can even confidently apply liquid disinfectants to the case with a wipe or cloth while the phone is still inside.

If you want to keep things minimal case-wise, consider a product like PhoneSoap, a phone sanitizing device that uses UV light to kill germs, including viruses like the flu, in 10 minutes—all while your phone is charging. The UV-C light will kill bacteria on the surface of anything the light reaches—and it can disinfect anything that fits inside, including remotes, keys, and credit cards.