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Keeping your smartphone clean in the pandemic: antibacterial screen protectors, disinfectant wipes, and plain old soapy water

Keeping your smartphone clean in the pandemic: antibacterial screen protectors, disinfectant wipes, and plain old soapy water
(Image credit: Getty)

With the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic and concerns over the ways we could be transmitting the virus from person to person, people have started looking at ways to improve their daily hygiene rituals. This includes washing your hands more often, wearing a face mask to cover coughs and also buying industrial quantities of hand sanitizer. Seriously, that stuff is worth its weight in gold at the moment.

But what about keeping your smartphone clean? We spend out lives glued to the best smartphones (opens in new tab) and spend a good portion of the day holding and touching them with our hands, so they’re as likely to harbor the virus as any other regularly used surface. But what can we do about it? How can we keep our phones clean and virus free?

We’ll run down the best ways to keep your smartphone clean, as well as looking at products like antibacterial screen protectors that people are purchasing to see how effective they will be.

Antibacterial screen protectors are great, but they won’t stop a virus

Screen protectors are immensely popular for anyone looking to protect their electronic devices, especially their smartphones. Brands like Invisible Shield and ICarez offer a range of screen protectors which have antimicrobial properties.

Invisible Shield (opens in new tab) sent us out a copy of one of its products, the Ultra Visionguard+ to look over. This screen protector comes in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit a wide range of smartphones, including iPhone 11 (opens in new tab), iPhone 11 Pro (opens in new tab), and the new Samsung Galaxy S20. The Ultra Visionguard+ claims to kill 99.99% of surface bacteria, while also protecting your screen from damage and filtering out blue light to protect your eyes from strain.

The Ultra Visionguard+ is a great bit of kit and we’d definitely recommend it as a screen protector. However, it’s worth noting that antibacterial does not mean antiviral. The COVID-19 coronavirus is, as the name suggests, a virus, not a bacterium. While the symptoms and illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses can seem very similar, they are not the same thing, so products that kill bacteria won’t necessarily kill viruses.

Invisible Shield InvisibleGuard Screen Protector

(Image credit: Invisible Shield/Zagg)

Pocket Lint spoke to Chris Micklem (opens in new tab), a researcher at the University of Cambridge who confirmed that “while there are materials that have been shown to decrease the longevity of certain virus particles on their surface, it is not yet clear whether commonly advertised antimicrobial coating technologies, as sold in their current form, will have this antiviral effect”.

Are antibacterial screen protectors worth it? Sure they are, they protect your screen from damage while also keeping you safe from harmful bacteria. But they won’t do anything to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Disinfectant wipes are the best way to clean your smartphone

Your best bet for keeping your phone clean and sanitary throughout the coronavirus pandemic is going to be disinfectant wipes, specifically Clorox or Lysol wipes. We say Lysol wipes since its website states clearly (opens in new tab) that its wipes shouldn’t affect or damage your screen in any way, but realistically Clorox wipes should be fine too.

As we reported earlier this month, Apple appended its long-standing advice on cleaning iPhones to say that you can use Clorox or other common disinfectant wipes. We would recommend cleaning your smartphone daily at a minimum, especially if you have been out of the house.

Cleaning your smartphone with soap and water?

OK, so that’s all well and good, but what do you do if you don’t have an antibacterial screen protector or disinfectant wipes? Well thankfully you can just wash your smartphone with a microfiber cloth and some soapy water, so long as you follow these precautionary steps:

1. Make sure your smartphone is waterproof

It seems like obvious advice, but so many of our cleaning routines use water, which famously doesn’t play well with electronic equipment. Avoid using wet or even damp clothes to clean your smartphone unless you can confirm that it’s waterproof. Luckily, most current models of smartphone have an IP68 waterproof ranking, which means they can be submerged in a meter of water for up to thirty minutes. We certainly don’t recommend that, but if you have a waterproof phone then a wipe down with a wet, soapy cloth will do the trick in a pinch.

Of all the handsets in our best smartphones (opens in new tab) list, we can confirm that the following are water-resistant with an IP68 rating:

  • iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
  • Google Pixel 4 XL
  • Huawei P30 Pro

If you’re unsure as to whether your handset is waterproof, please check on the manufacturers website before cleaning your phone with a damp cloth.  If your smartphone isn't waterproof, you might still be OK if you're careful and make sure you wring out the cloth thoroughly before cleaning your phone, but we can't give any guarantees. Consider this a last resort when it comes to cleaning your smartphone. Like if a stranger sneezes on your phone or if it starts ringing and the caller ID says COVID-19. 

2. Turn your phone off before cleaning.

If you’re going anywhere near your smartphone with a wet cloth, you should turn it off first. Yes, even if your phone claims to be waterproof. It’s not worth the risk that you end up electrocuting yourself or damaging the internal components. Shut it down, then the cleaning can begin.

3. Use a microfiber cloth to avoid scratches

If you are going to be wiping down your phone with a cloth, makes sure you use a microfiber cloth, so you don’t scratch the screen up. Microfiber cloths are the same material that eyeglasses and screen cleaning clothes are made from, and they specially designed so they don’t damage delicate surfaces like glass.

4. Soap/detergent kills the coronavirus

While people have been going nuts for antibacterial hand sanitizers, the simple truth is that soap kills the coronavirus. COVID-19 aka the coronavirus has a lipid layer which is broken down by soap, detergent and anything else that you would expect to break down fat/lipids.

If you want to delve into the science behind soap and its coronavirus destroying properties, then this series of Tweets from Palli Thordarson, a chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales, explains everything wonderfully:

See more

So there we have it, if you can't get any disinfectant wipes, then your best bet is just going to be a microfiber cloth damped with soapy water. Sometimes the old ways are best. Just be careful. We're all isolated enough as it is, the last thing you need is to ruin your smartphone and cut yourself off from the world completely.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay isolated, and we'll see you on the other side.

Ian Stokes is the Tech Editor here at Top Ten Reviews. He has extensive experience in tech and games journalism, with work published on IGN, Kotaku UK, Waypoint, GamesRadar, Trusted Reviews, and many more. You'll find him covering everything from smartphones and home computers to 3D printers and headphones. He's also our resident cocktail expert.