How Dirty is Your Cell Phone?

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — October 09, 2012

Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, recently stated that cellphones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats and then asked, "When's the last time you cleaned your cellphone?”

Spotlighted on the University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences site, Gerba pointed out that toilets tend to get disinfected frequently, because people associate them with germs and they are thought of as dirty place. But cellphones, which are handled constantly, are not generally part of people’s cleaning routine.

Think about where you use your phone, where you store it and where you put it down - combine that with the multitude of surfaces, door handles and light switches you touch, and then multiply it by the number of people who share your phone and you might develop instant OCD. Your phone is picking up germs from everywhere, and then you are putting it to your mouth.

Waste Matters
If this is not alarming enough, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Contamination of the U.K., whose mission is to improve health in the United Kindgom and worldwide, revealed that one in six mobile phones in Britain is contaminated with fecal matter.

The experts said the most likely reason for the potentially harmful bacteria festering on so many gadgets is people failing to wash their hands properly with soap after going to the toilet. Although 95% of people said they washed their hands with soap where possible, 92% of phones and 82% of hands had bacteria on them. Worryingly, 16% of hands and 16% of phones were found to harbor E. coli - bacteria of a fecal origin which can be fatal.

Researchers traveled to 12 cities and took 390 samples from mobile phones and hands, which were analyzed in the lab to find out the type and number of germs lurking there. They also asked participants a series of questions about their hand-washing habits.

Fecal bacteria can survive on hands and surfaces for hours at a time, especially in warmer temperatures away from sunlight. It is easily transferred by touch to door handles, food and even mobile phones. From there, the germs can be picked up by other people.

So, How Dirty is Your Phone?
I came across a completely unscientific test created by a web developer/marketer Matthew Inman. The quiz questions include: How many times do you wash your hands; how often and with what do you clean your phone and where do you keep your phone while moving?

The test also asks about your exposure to kids and pets, the type of phone case you use, your transportation method to work, the amount of people you work with and your phone sharing habits. The results are gross, though I could not find any evidence of methodology, so I’ll take the number of germs calculated under consideration.

So, How Do I Clean It?

Aside from the obvious prevention through handwashing, how can you safely clean a dirty cell phone? A Google search resulted in many devices that use UV light to sanitize, some of which claim to kill “99% of germs in seconds.” A few work on all types of mobile devices, headsets and ear buds.

There are also cleaners designed specifically for mobile devices, and a microfiber cloth removes surface dirt. Don’t use common household products, as they are too harsh. Some experts recommend surgical or antibacterial wipes; however, it’s best to check with the device manufacturer first. Anything that contains alcohol can potentially cause damage.

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