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Your cellphone can be a carrier of microbial life forms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Getty Images
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to clean commonly touched surfaces.
  • One type of surface that we touch frequently is our phone touch screen.
  • Phone touch screens can usually be cleaned using disinfecting wipes, but check with the maker of your phone first.
  • Frequency of cleaning will vary depending on your habits and the likelihood of exposure.

With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, there has been much attention placed on preventive actions, such as handwashing, staying home when we are sick, and cleaning commonly touched surfaces.

Regarding the latter, however, there is one type of surface that we may be neglecting: the touch screens and carrying cases for our phones.

“Touch screens on our devices are an often overlooked source of microbes that can be brought into our personal space,” noted Dr. David Westenberg, associate professor of biological sciences at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

In fact, numerous studies have found that our cellphones can be carriers of microbial life forms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

While many of these are harmless, according to Westenberg, there are also disease-causing organisms like the SARS-CoV-2 virus that can survive on surfaces long enough to be transmitted to you or another person.

If you are washing your hands already, just how important is it to also clean your phone?

Westenberg said that if people wash their hands before touching their devices, that would ordinarily be enough to prevent us from transferring the virus through touch.

“However, as often as we touch our devices, washing our hands before every new contact with the device would be impractical,” he said.

In fact, according to a 2019 survey by research firm dscout, the average person touches their cellphone 2,617 times daily.

In light of this fact, Westenberg said wiping down the touch screens and cases of our phones “should be a part of our routine.”

First and foremost, you will want to consult the website for the manufacturer of your phone or carrying case for any specific instructions that they might have in order to avoid damaging your device or case.

Many manufacturers, including Apple, have provided recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While specific instructions may vary depending on your device, Apple is advising the following for its products:

  • Use only a soft, lint-free cloth.
  • Avoid excessive wiping.
  • Unplug all power sources, devices, and cables.
  • Keep liquids away from your device.
  • Don’t allow moisture to get into any openings.
  • Avoid aerosol sprays, bleaches, and abrasives.
  • Avoid spraying cleaners directly onto your device.

Apple is recommending the use of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipes or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes to wipe down any hard, nonporous surfaces.

However, they say you should avoid using them on leather or fabric to prevent damage.

According to Dr. Donald W. Schaffner, extension specialist in food science and distinguished professor at Rutgers University, these are “fairly gentle disinfectants.”

However, you should avoid using chlorine bleach, according to Schaffner. This could damage your phone.

Westenberg further suggested that keeping your phone in a sealed case will make it easier to wipe it down with disinfectant wipes.

According to Schaffner, the most likely way that your device would become contaminated with high levels of the virus is for someone to sneeze or cough near it.

Microscopic droplets containing the virus could then settle on the phone, he explained.

So, if you have been near anyone who is coughing or sneezing, it would be a good idea to clean your phone.

In addition, according to Westenberg, it would be a good idea to clean your phone “on a regular basis,” although not necessarily every time you touch it.

As far as the frequency, this will vary with your habits, said Westenberg.

“If you are being diligent about washing your hands, you would need to clean the screen less often, maybe once or twice a day.

“If you are putting your phone down on a potentially contaminated surface, washing your hands infrequently, et cetera, then I would recommend more often,” he said.

Schaffner said he thinks it’s important to stress, however, that unless you are in a home with someone who has SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it’s relatively unlikely that your phone has any virus on it.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to clean your phone more than once a day,” he said, unless it’s potentially been exposed to the virus.

What to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19

If you have COVID-19 or suspect you have the virus that causes COVID-19, you should seek medical care.

You have several options for obtaining medical care, including being seen by your primary healthcare provider. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends calling your provider first so that they can take the necessary steps to prepare for your visit and protect others from possible exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Some healthcare providers also offer virtual visits through your smartphone or laptop, so you may not need to leave your home for an initial assessment.

If you don’t have a primary healthcare provider, you can use this tool to find a local primary care office in your area.

If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Notify the operator that you have COVID-19 or suspect exposure to the virus that causes it. If possible, put on a face mask before emergency medical services arrive.

Disclosure: Healthline maintains a partnership with some of the providers linked above and may receive compensation for services provided.