Several medical professionals weigh in.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage throughout the United States and around the world, new technologies aimed at killing viruses and bacteria are at the forefront of our fight against it. One of the latest to enter the arena are UV light sanitization cases and boxes—which, ultimately, aren't new at all (UV light has long been known for its ability to kill germs). What is new, according to our experts, is their use within our own homes, particularly when it comes to disinfecting our smartphones. Here, they weigh in on their ability to fight COVID-19.

woman holding phone
Credit: Getty / Karl Tapales

What is UV light?

Most of us are familiar with two types of UV light—UVA and UVB, which come from the sun. But there's a third type, called UVC. "UVC is extremely potent and known to have a germicidal effect," explains Sunitha D. Posina, M.D., an internist and locum hospitalist in New York. "It does kill bacteria and viruses effectively, even the SARS virus, which is why it has been used to sterilize surgical equipment and rooms for decades." The issue with this type of UV light, however, is that it's highly carcinogenic, according to the American Cancer Society.

Can UV light be used to sanitize phones?

New research out of Hiroshima University, however, is showing that UVC light—when used at a wavelength of 222 nanometers (a safer amount for humans)—is effective at killing COVID-19. As a result, more and more companies are creating devices that utilize UVC light at a safe level, such as PhoneSoap, which created a sanitization box that simultaneously charges your cell ($49.99, target.com). "To sterilize the cell phone, you simply put the cell phone in the case and turn on the UV light within the case," explains Xinwei Mao, Ph.D., the Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Department of Civil Engineering. "Typically, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to finish the sterilization cycle and, during the process, you can also charge your phone."

Are there better options for keeping your phone clean?

While UV light phone sanitizers have shown promise, there's a better way to keep your phone clean sans UV exposure of any kind: Simply clean it regularly. According to a study published in the journal Germs, phones are about 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat (and think about how often you touch yours!). To clean your device, follow these steps: "First, wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds, and then power your phone off and remove dirt from every surface with a microfiber cloth," says Shirin Peters, M.D., the founder of Bethany Medical Center based in New York City. "After this, use a disinfecting wipe to disinfect every surface and, once you have let the phone dry for four minutes, turn your phone on again." She also suggests setting your phone aside while cooking. "This way, the germs on your phone will not be transferred to your food and ingested," says Dr. Peters, who recommends keeping your phone out of the bathroom, too.

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