“Think about door handles better”: why it often makes no sense to sanitize smartphones to protect against Covid-19

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the media recalled that smartphones are considered one of the main breeding grounds for microorganisms around humans. According to scientists, the surfaces of devices are contaminated with microbes more than toilets and contain a significant number of bacteria, including fecal bacteria.

Many major publications have begun advising cleaning phones to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. WSJ journalist Joanna Stern talked with experts in microbiology and infections and found out that it is worth disinfecting a smartphone but only in rare cases.

Smartphone disinfection is unlikely to help, but it will not harm

All the experts interviewed by Stern told her about the same thing in different words – to wash their hands, not to touch their faces and not to worry about smartphones. Moreover, according to the latest data, Covid-19 coronavirus can live on different surfaces from several hours to nine days.

It is theoretically possible that the virus will survive on a smartphone. If you got it and someone sneezed or coughed at him, and then you picked up the phone in your hands, you can catch the infection. People should keep their smartphones near themselves, then the risk will be very low.

Daniel Kuritskes
Head of Infectious Diseases Management at Brigham and Women Hospital

According to Alex Berezov, microbiologist and president of the American Council on Science and Health, the possibility of infection through a smartphone worries him “least of all”. He advised worrying more about doorknobs that thousands of other people touch.

At the same time, experts do not deny that smartphones collect microbes, but argue that this usually does not lead to disease. According to Emma Hayhurst, a microbiologist at the University of South Wales, researchers, by contrast, are trying to avoid the massive fear of contaminated phones.

When you are healthy, this is not a problem. Now you do not need to constantly wash our smartphones, unless you are constantly in contact with infected coronavirus. Then yes, wash your smartphones all the time.

Emma Hayhurst
University of South Wales microbiologist, co-author of smartphone pollution study

Smartphones can be cleaned, it won’t harm them

Most of all, the WSJ journalist was worried that smartphone disinfection could affect the oleophobic coating. The protective film on the screen usually repels fats and prevents the appearance of prints and traces, without it it would be less convenient to use smartphones.

For example, Apple and Samsung say the use of cleaning products can reduce coverage and scratch your smartphone. To test this, WSJ conducted an experiment with the new iPhone 8 – Stern 1095 times wiped the screen with Clorox disinfectant wipes.

I calculated that such a number of repetitions corresponds to cleaning the smartphone every day for three years. The only thing that has changed after all the cleansing is my poor, wrinkled fingers. The coating repelled the fat in the same way as after I took the smartphone out of the box.

Joanna stern
WSJ journalist

The journalist continued her attempts: she poured hydrochloric acid onto the smartphone from the toilet cleaner, but after five minutes of cleaning with the device everything was still fine. Then she used bleach, and then put the iPhone for two hours in the cleaner and for five minutes in the nail polish remover with acetone. Only after that, she noticed that the coating “almost” disappeared.

All Stern tried to destroy the oleophobic coating of iPhone 8 Kenny Vasus’ photo for WSJ

Stern came to the conclusion that the oleophobic coating on the screens of smartphones is quite resistant to wear, so do not worry about damage to it. However, she recalled that it is better to avoid liquids entering the ports of devices, even if they are waterproof – over time, their resistance decreases.

How best to disinfect smartphones if you want

For a long time, Apple and Samsung in the instructions recommended using an only microfiber cloth. However, to destroy the microbes on the surface, you will need at least another 55% alcohol solution.

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, at least Apple and Google changed the instructions by removing the ban on the use of detergents. Now users are officially allowed to use wipes with a 70% alcohol solution. Samsung advised the owners of Galaxy to use alcohol-soaked wipes, but not to apply the liquid to the smartphone itself.

Best Use Microfiber Cloth Photo by Kenny Wasus for WSJ

Among other things, smartphones that are considered waterproof can simply be washed with soap and water. However, do not wipe them with hard cloths or paper towels – this can damage the screens. In addition, do not use sprays and sprayers.

With smartphone cases, the situation is more complicated: they can consist of completely different materials, including metal, silicone, plastic or leather. Depending on this, their cleaning methods may vary. On the Apple website, a separate page is devoted to cleaning branded cases, but the instructions may be useful to owners of any other cases.

Option for paranoid – a special device for disinfecting smartphones

If you don’t want to constantly do everything yourself, you can try ultraviolet cleaning with a special device, for example, PhoneSoap Go. It will cost $ 100 and destroy 99.9% of bacteria and germs.

To use the device, it is enough to place the smartphone in the “cradle” for 10 minutes. All this time it will be irradiated with ultraviolet radiation, harmful to microorganisms.

According to PhoneSoap, with manual cleaning, people can still skip parts of the smartphone. And even the most reliable cleaning solutions need time to kill bacteria – otherwise, they can easily survive.

Microbiologists interviewed by the WSJ journalist confirmed the effectiveness of ultraviolet radiation. In a conversation with Stern, the head of PhoneSoap said that the company noticed an increase in revenue of 1,000% against the spread of coronavirus.

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