How to Disinfect Your Cell Phone Properly

Published March 11, 2020
Woman cleaning mobile phone

Cell phones are one item that you use everyday, but may not think about cleaning regularly. Considering how often phones come into contact with our mouths, faces and hands, it's surprising how little attention is given to keeping phones free of harmful bacteria.

How to Clean and Disinfect Your Cell Phone

One study of phones found that they have 10 times more bacteria on them than your toilet seat! Another study of 27 phones owned by adolescents found a significant level of problematic bacteria and germs on them. Whether you own an iPhone or an Android phone, the steps to clean them are essentially the same.

Items You Will Need

  • A lint-free lens cloth or microfiber cloth
  • Screen cleaner solution
  • 50/50 mix of 40% isopropyl alcohol and distilled water
  • A small spray bottle for your mix
  • A small bucket of warm water and soap solution and a damp cloth
  • Q-tips
  • Saddle soap if you have a leather phone case


  1. Turn your phone off completely before attempting to clean it and take it out of its case if it has one.
  2. If your phone is not water resistant, use a lint-free lens or microfiber cloth to wipe excess dirt and dust on the phone screen and casing. You can use a gentle spritz of a screen cleaner solution on the cloth (but do not spray on the phone itself).
  3. You can also use a 50/50 mix of 40% isopropyl alcohol and distilled water. Mix the solution into a small spray bottle and make sure you spray the solution on the cloth and not on the phone. Do not soak the cloth, just a light spritz is all you need.
  4. Always use gentle, circular motions when wiping with the cloth. It may feel to you that pressing harder won't harm the phone, but the coatings are much more delicate than they seem.
    man cleaning his cell phone
  5. If your phone is water resistant, you can use a damp cloth that has been moistened in a mix of warm water and soap. Gently wash the screen and casing, being careful not to squeeze any excess water onto the phone. Use a dry microfiber cloth to remove any excess moisture on the phone.
  6. Make sure you do not get any water into the open ports of the phone.
  7. Never dunk a water resistant phone in water. While it's true that phones like the iPhone 7 and above and some Samsung Galaxy models are marketed as able to be underwater for up to a half hour, it's wise not to test these capabilities. You can easily end up accidentally damaging your phone.
  8. You can use Q-Tips to clean in the smaller areas of the phone, such as the USB and peripheral ports. Do so very gently as you don't want to damage any parts inside the port or get dirt or dust lodged in further.
  9. If you keep your phone in a case, these should be cleaned as well. The method will depend on the materials it's made of, such as plastic, rubber, leather or silicone.
    • Leather cases should be cleaned with leather-safe products such as saddle soap.
    • Silicone cases can be washed with warm water and soap once a week. You can spray the isopropyl alcohol and water solution on a microfiber cloth and wipe the case down daily.
    • Plastic cases can be wiped down with the alcohol/water solution daily.

UV Light and Disinfecting Cell Phones

If you feel concerned that a microfiber cloth, even a damp one, isn't enough to clean and disinfect a phone, it's time to invest in a UV light cleaner. These cleaners use UV light to kill germs on your phone and are effective at removing about 99% of harmful bacteria. You simply place the phone inside the sanitizer and wait for a specified amount of time, usually 15 to 30 minutes, until the process is complete. Some may consider UV light cleaners excessive and expensive, but they definitely do work very well.

Can You Use Cleaning Products With a Cell Phone?

Most cell phone manufacturers advise users not to use cleaners such as rubbing alcohol to clean a phone. There's a chance that these chemicals can damage the protective oleophobic coating on your phone's screen and the phone itself if it gets into any openings. Some cleaners that you should never use on a phone include:

  • Disinfectant wipes, such as Clorox and Lysol Wipes, and window cleaners, such as Windex, are too abrasive for phone screens and can remove a phone's protective coating.
  • Kitchen cleaners such as ammonia and bleach products are also too harsh and will damage a phone screen.
  • Rubbing alcohol can damage the screen coating on your phone. You will see some recommendations to use a mix of 60% distilled water and 40% rubbing alcohol, but do so at your own risk as this can still hurt your phone. You can use it on other parts of your phone such as plastic.
  • Compressed air cans used to clean computers can break a phone's internal systems such as the microphone and USB ports.
  • Vinegar can harm your phone's screen, although you can use a mix of white vinegar and distilled water to clean the phone's casing, assuming you keep it away from the screen.
  • Regular soap, such as hand soap and dish soap, should be avoided, unless you have a water resistant phone. Even with the water resistant phone, the soap should only be used when mixed with water and placed on the cleaning cloth, and not directly on the phone.
  • Hand sanitizer should not be used to clean phones, as they contain alcohol which can harm your phone's screen.
  • Paper towels, tissues and toilet paper should not be used to wash your phone. They can damage the phone because they're too abrasive, even if they feel "soft" to your hands.

How Often Should You Clean Your Phone?

If you are a heavy phone user, and take your phone with you everywhere, it's a smart idea to disinfect your phone once a day. If you are not a heavy phone user or don't bring your phone into the kitchen, dining room and bathroom, you can consider disinfecting at least once a week or more, but not necessarily daily. You might also want to clean once a day if you use a rubber case, which can attract and hold bacteria longer than other types. Cleanings are also a good idea after your phone has been anywhere that germs may be heavily present, such as eating establishments, hospitals, and doctor offices.

Keeping Your Phone Free of Germs

It's almost impossible to keep your phone entirely germ-free all the time, but there are things you can do to help stop the spread of bacteria.

Wash Your Hands Often

Try to wash your hands before you use your phone, and after you're finished. It may seem to you that your hands are clean from the first wash, but at least one of your hands will come into contact with your mouth and breath while you are holding and speaking on the phone. Keeping some hand sanitizer with you and using it after every call can also help reduce the spread of germs.

Use a Headset

Using a headset for phone calls or ear buds can keep the phone away from your face. You'll still need to clean and disinfect the phone and your headset, but keeping the phone away from your face can help reduce the risk of passing germs up to your face.

Man using headset

Use a Screen Protector

A screen protector won't keep the phone clean from bacteria, but they can make cleaning easier. A screen protector can be easily removed and replaced with another, so it's one option for keeping your screen clean without worrying about damaging it.

Use Plugs for Open Ports

PortPlugs fit into a phone's various ports and keep them closed off from collecting dust and germs. They pop in and out when you need to use the port to charge the phone or plug in a headset, and can be placed back in when you're done.

Purchase an Antimicrobial Cover

Antimicrobial phone covers are designed to repel and reduce the amount of germs that collect on your phone. They won't keep them 100% free of bacteria, but they can help keep more germs away than a regular phone cover can.

Don't Bring Your Phone Everywhere

One way you can keep your phone clean, or cleaner, is to not bring it every single place you go. One of the biggest suspects is your bathroom, which has more bacteria than other rooms of the house. Unless you really need your phone with you, try to keep it out of rooms where it's more likely to come into contact with harmful bacteria. This would include not only the bathroom but the kitchen, dining room and any room where you clean up after your pets, such as a litter box area for your cats.

Keeping Your Phone Clean

For many of people, a phone can be a personal extension that are literally brought almost everywhere. While this makes it a very convenient tool for modern living, it also can lead to phones becoming germ and bacteria magnets. By observing good hand washing practices and cleaning a phone properly at least once a week for light users and daily for "power users," you can eliminate the possibility that your phone can become a safe haven for the germs responsible for serious illnesses. Now get tips on how to clean a clear phone case to leave it germ-free and looking like new.

How to Disinfect Your Cell Phone Properly