All you need is a microfiber cloth, isopropyl alcohol, and a few handy household supplies.
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Whether you're bringing it into the bathroom or passing it to a friend who has been sneezing a bit more than usual, one thing's for sure: Your cell phone is dirty. In addition to carrying germs that make us sick, including those that spread the novel coronavirus or flu, all that lint and dirt can also prevent a phone from performing at its best. For that reason, you should wipe it clean every day. That may seem a bit tricky considering that it is such a delicate device, but it's quite safe as long as you follow these simple steps.

woman on her cell phone
Credit: Getty

First, gather your supplies: You will need a clean microfiber cloth, isopropyl alcohol (70 percent concentrate), spray bottle, mounting putty, scotch tape, and a toothpick. And, for a CDC-approved level of sanitizing, be sure to check their list of approved cleaning solutions.

Sanitizing Against COVID-19

Sometimes, a deep-clean isn't enough for your cell phone. Opt for a Center for Disease Control (CDC)-approved level of clean with germ-killing active ingredients, as long as doing so is allowed by your phone's manufacturer. The CDC states, "If no manufacturer guidance is available on your particular cell phone, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes"—one that will kill the virus, like Lysol or Clorox wipes ($12.88, from their approved list—or "sprays containing at least 70 percent alcohol to disinfect touch screens. Dry the surface thoroughly to avoid the pooling of liquids." It's important to check the ingredients in the disinfectant you choose, as some may break down the protective coating on a smart phone's screen.

Daily Cleaning

Because your phone basically goes everywhere you do, it's best to wipe it down every day with a clean, lightly dampened microfiber cloth. "Simply using this cloth slightly dampened with clean water can remove up to 99 percent of bacteria without any type of solution at all," says Sandy Nelson, owner of Molly Maid of Sarasota, Manatee & Charlotte Counties, a Neighborly company. The fabric is lint-free, and the weaves attract and capture dust and dirt.

A lens cloth is made of microfiber and is designed to clean things even more delicate than your phone such as eyewear or camera lenses, so it's definitely the safest to use on your screen. Since any dirt or dust can scratch the phone, you want to clean the cloth after every use. Soak it in warm, soapy water, rinse, and leave it out to air dry. To clean your phone, Nelson says to fill a spray bottle with water and spritz a very fine mist directly onto the microfiber. (Most phones these days have some level of waterproofing, but the adhesive that protects the phone wears off over time so you really don't want to be testing that feature out.) Turning the device off before cleaning is an extra step you can take to protect your device. Wipe in even, downward strokes, avoiding ports, and speaker holes. Remember to clean both sides of the phone and both sides of the case. You'll be shocked when you see what kind of gunk can work its way in between the two.

Bi-Weekly Cleaning

If you're not inclined to clean your phone every day, using diluted alcohol can help remove even more germs and prevent water damage. Taylor Dixon, a teardown engineer for iFixit, explains that alcohol dries much more quickly than water; if excess liquid works its way into the ports, it will dry before it causes any problems. Because phones and most screen protectors have an oleophobic coating to resist fingerprints, you don't want to use this strategy too often. "If you use isopropyl alcohol on the screen regularly or use alcohol that's too concentrated, then yes, you will wear away that coating," says Dixon.

He doesn't use electronics wipes because they often have too high of alcohol concentrates or have other chemicals that can negatively affect the screen. Instead, Dixon recommends that you make your own solution: Fill a spray bottle halfway with water, then fill the rest with isopropyl alcohol that has a 70 percent concentrate. Shake it up and spritz a fine mist onto the lens cloth. Resist the urge to aggressively scrub as that can wear down the coating-just gently wipe in even, downward strokes. If need be, you can use a piece of Scotch tape to pick up any dirt that isn't budging.

Special Circumstances

Dixon says that it's best to avoid the holes and openings in your phone during routine cleaning. If there's a noticeably large buildup that's preventing the charging cable from clicking properly into place, power down your phone and use a toothpick to gently pick out any lint or debris that's gotten stuck and compressed inside. If that's not working or you're too nervous to go digging around inside your phone, some electronic sellers will clean it for free. For shallow holes (such as speaker grilles), Dixon recommends using a piece of mounting putty. It will easily grab the gunk that's affecting the performance of your speakers.


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