Skip to main content

A germophobe’s guide to a clean phone

A germophobe’s guide to a clean phone


There are ways to use it without worrying about infection

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

The media is full of advice about how to avoid spreading COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus. Most of it involves keeping your hands clean and not touching your face. But your hands aren’t the only things that touch your face. What about your phone?

In a recent article about how to mix up your own hand sanitizer, I mentioned that there wasn’t much concern out there about mobile phones. However, since then, I’ve been witness to several worried conversations about the possible of disease transmission via smartphone and have come across a number of sites offering advice on how to keep your phone disinfected.

While alcohol may be bad news for germs, it’s not exactly great for your display

There is some reason for concern — but only some. According to the Journal of Hospital Infection, an analysis of 22 studies came to the conclusion that coronaviruses “can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days, but can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures with 62–71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite within 1 minute.”

In other words, the surface of your smartphone can be an avenue of infection, but you can take care of the problem by wiping it with an alcohol solution. Unfortunately, while alcohol may be bad news for germs, it’s not exactly great for your display. (And don’t even think about hydrogen peroxide.) Most smartphones have an oil-repellent (oleophobic) coating that acts to keep fingerprints and other smudges off the screen, and that can be damaged by harsh chemicals.

How much damage seems to vary depending on the phone manufacturer. Until recently, both Apple and Google suggested that, for heavy soiling, you can use soapy water on a lint-free cloth, but pretty much anything else was a no-no. However, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Apple changed its instructions to read “Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple product, such as the display, keyboard, or other exterior surfaces.” The company adds that you shouldn’t use bleach, and should avoid getting moisture in any of the openings.

Meanwhile, in an issue of Health Magazine, microbiologist Charles Gerba suggests lightly dampening a microfiber cloth with a mix of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol to de-germ your display. And if worse comes to worst, iFixit has instructions on how to reapply an oleophobic coating.

Another possibility is to buy a screen protector and place it on top of your phone display. The better ones are glass and usually run from around $7 to $40 for a pack of two or three, depending on your phone model. If you clean a screen protector using a light solution of alcohol and water, it shouldn’t damage your phone’s actual display. Screen protectors have the additional advantage that they prevent your display from being accidentally scratched or cracked, although they can be a real pain to install and may make your display slightly less sensitive to your touch.

There are also phone sanitizers, which claim to sanitize your phone using ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, we have not tested them and therefore can’t vouch for their effectiveness.

Or you can simply stick to using call-capable earbuds or earphones, which will keep your phone — no matter what germs are wandering around on its surface — safely away from your face.

Update March 9th, 2020, 2:50PM ET: This article has been updated to include Apple’s new instructions on cleaning its devices.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed An hour ago Midjourneys

Alex CranzAn hour ago
After DART smashed into Dimorphos, I can’t stop thinking about the best “blow up an asteroid” story.

LucasArts and Steven Spielberg came up with The Dig, a game about an astronaut, scientist, and journalist blowing up an asteroid and finding a spaceship inside, and they did it years before Bruce Willis, or NASA. You can still buy and play it on Steam!

Richard LawlerAn hour ago
Everything looks better in slow motion.

Apple’s Dynamic Island alert system isn’t sitting still around your iPhone 14’s front-facing camera array. We’ve been enjoying its contextual animations — and even an Android copycat — since it was unveiled, but take a look at it here, captured at 240fps, to see exactly how iOS applies animations that make it feel a bit more lively.

External Link
Russell BrandomTwo hours ago
Oracle will pay $23 million to settle foreign bribery charges.

The SEC alleges that Oracle used a slush fund to bribe officials in India, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

This behavior is sadly common among software companies doing business overseas, and it’s not unique to Oracle. In March, a former Microsoft executive claimed the company spent as much as $200 million a year in bribes for foreign officials.

Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther WangSep 26
External Link
Emma Roth3:16 PM UTC
Celsius’ CEO is out.

Alex Mashinsky, the head of the bankrupt crypto lending firm Celsius, announced his resignation today, but not after patting himself on the back for working “tirelessly to help the company.”

In Mashinsky’s eyes, I guess that means designing “Unbankrupt yourself” t-shirts on Cafepress and then selling them to a user base that just had their funds vaporized.

At least customers of the embattled Voyager Digital crypto firm are in slightly better shape, as the Sam Bankman-Fried-owned FTX just bought out the company’s assets.

Mary Beth Griggs2:46 PM UTC
NASA’s SLS rocket is secure as Hurricane Ian barrels towards Florida.

The rocket — and the Orion spacecraft on top — are now back inside the massive Vehicle Assembly Building. Facing menacing forecasts, NASA decided to roll it away from the launchpad yesterday.

External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins1:30 PM UTC
Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle brand is about to go public via SPAC

LiveWire has completed its merger with a blank-check company and will make its debut on the New York Stock Exchange today. Harley-Davison CEO Jochen Zeitz called it “a proud and exciting milestone for LiveWire towards its ambition to become the most desirable electric motorcycle brand in the world.” Hopefully it also manages to avoid the cash crunch of other EV SPACs, like Canoo, Arrival, Faraday Future, and Lordstown.

The Verge
Andrew Webster1:06 PM UTC
“There’s an endless array of drama going on surrounding Twitch right now.”

That’s Ryan Morrison, CEO of Evolved Talent Agency, which represents some of the biggest streamers around. And he’s right — as you can read in this investigation from my colleague Ash Parrish, who looked into just what’s going on with Amazon’s livestreaming service.

The Verge
Richard Lawler12:59 PM UTC
Green light.

NASA’s spacecraft crashed, and everyone is very happy about it.

Otherwise, Mitchell Clark is kicking off the day with a deeper look at Dish Network’s definitely-real 5G wireless service , and Walmart’s metaverse vision in Roblox is not looking good at all.

External Link
Jess Weatherbed11:49 AM UTC
Won’t anyone think of the billionaires?

Forbes reports that rising inflation and falling stock prices have collectively cost members of the Forbes 400 US rich list $500 billion in 2022 with tech tycoons suffering the biggest losses.

Jeff Bezos (worth $151 billion) lost $50 billion, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin (worth a collective $182b) lost almost $60b, Mark Zuckerberg (worth $57.7b) lost $76.8b, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (worth $4.5b) lost $10.4b. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (worth $83b) lost $13.5b while his ex-boss Bill Gates (worth $106b) lost $28b, albeit $20b of that via charity donations.

Thomas Ricker6:45 AM UTC
Check out this delightful DART Easter egg.

Just Google for “NASA DART.” You’re welcome.