How to disinfect your electronic devices without damaging them

April 3, 2020

Learn how to clean and disinfect tablets, smartphones, laptops, and more!

Safely disinfecting electronics with isopropyl alcohol wipes.

Spring cleaning, hand washing, window washing - we spend a lot of time keeping our homes and ourselves clean! But what about our electronic devices? We interact with phones, tablets, and laptops not just daily, but hourly and they can be a haven for bacteria, viruses, and germs of all types. That's why it's important to make sure you don't miss these devices when going through your cleaning checklist! But unlike your countertops, electronics are sensitive to liquids, sow how are we supposed to keep them clean? Read on and we'll show you how to clean and disinfect your electronic devices without damaging them!

Why is it important to clean your electronic devices? 

Take a moment and think about all of the various interactions you have with your devices each day. We constantly handle our phones, put them up against our faces, type on keyboards, and swipe on tablets. While our device habits vary from person to person, one study estimates that we touch our phone about 2,617 times per day! That makes those devices perfect vessels of transmission for all manner of bugs

So how frequently should we be cleaning our devices? It depends on your individual use, but once a day will probably be adequate. However, if you've been around others that have been sick or are sneezing and coughing, you may want to consider cleaning them more frequently. 

But before we dive into the specifics of how to clean your electronic devices, it's worth reiterating how important it is to wash your hands. You can clean your phone 100 times a day, but if your hands have germs, it won't make much of a difference. 

How to disinfect your electronics without damaging them

What chemicals are safe to use for cleaning electronics? 

Before cleaning your phone, laptop, keyboard, or smartwatch, it is important to check with the specific manufacturer for cleaning instructions. While most of these cleaning tips work in general, every device is a little different.

Furthermore, many smart devices, such as iPhones, have what is called an oleophobic coating on the glass surfaces. This is designed to help keep fingerprints and oils from your skin from smearing on your device. Strong cleaners, such as bleach, may degrade that coating. 

However, several manufacturers, such as Apple and Samsung, have updated their cleaning guidelines. Apple approves a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution or (bleach-free) Clorox Disinfecting wipes. Samsung has approved 70% isopropyl or ethanol solutions as well as other disinfectants, like hypochlorous acid-based solutions. 

Disinfecting your smartphone and tablet

Power down. First and foremost, it's important to shut off your phone or tablet before cleaning it and unplug it from its charger. While you should avoid getting any liquid inside any opening on your device, keeping the power off will protect the electronics from shorting out if you do. If you have a protective case, remove it and clean it separately so you can get in those hard-to-reach places.

Use a microfiber cloth. When finding a cloth to wipe your device down, you want to use lint-free, non-abrasive materials that won't scratch surfaces or leave anything behind. Microfiber cloths, like those used for cleaning glasses, are perfect for this. Paper towels, however, should be avoided. 

Avoid direct application. When using something like a 70% isopropyl solution, don't apply it directly to your device. Instead, spray or pour a small amount onto your cloth and use that to wipe down your surfaces. If you are using alcohol or disinfecting wipes, you may consider wringing them out slightly before using them to avoid applying too much of the solution. 

You should also avoid using compressed air or aerosol sprays on your device. The extra force from these products can force dirt and liquid into small spaces, making it much more difficult to dry and potentially harming the components within. 

Be gentle. When cleaning a phone or tablet screen, don't apply too much pressure. Gently wiping with your cloth and cleaning solution is more than adequate, and too much pressure can damage the screen.

Avoid openings. It's important to try and avoid getting any of your cleaning solution inside the small cracks and openings in your phone, like the charging port. For this reason, you should never submerge your device in any liquid. 

Let it dry. After you've thoroughly cleaned your device, make sure to allow it plenty of time to air dry before powering it back on. If you've removed your case and cleaned it separately, let it dry before snapping it back in place to avoid trapping liquid in between. 

Disinfecting your laptop, keyboard, and mouse

Power down. Just like cleaning your phones and tablets, before cleaning your laptop, shut off its power and unplug the power supply. If possible, remove the battery as well. 

Use a microfiber cloth. Whether you're cleaning the keyboard or screen on you laptop, make sure to use a cloth that won't scratch or leave little pieces of lint behind. 

Avoid excess cleaner. Whether you're spraying a cleaning solution on a cloth or using disinfecting wipes, it's important that you wring out excess liquid. Make sure that the cloth is damp, but not dripping. This is especially true when wiping down a keyboard as excess cleaning solution can easily find its way beneath the keys.

Dry it off. After wiping keyboards and screens down with your disinfecting solution, use a dry lint-free cloth to remove any excess liquid. It's important to make sure that cleaning liquids aren't allowed to pool on any surface as they may seep into cracks and crevices. 

Remove the keys. Most of the time, it isn't necessary to completely remove the individual keys, and sometimes it isn't a good idea. Many laptops don't have keyboards that are designed for that level of disassembly, and so removing the keys may ruin them. Make sure you check with the manufacturer before attempting to do so. 

However, if you are certain it is safe and want to get in that extra level of cleaning, removing keys is usually very easy. Simply take a flat tool, like a butter knife or flathead screwdriver, and gently pry the key out. Make sure to keep one hand above the key as you do this so that it doesn't fly across the room.

Before cleaning, make sure the keyboard isn't receiving power, either by unplugging it or by turning the laptop off. You can then thoroughly clean each individual key and get into those hard-to-reach places. After you're done, make sure the keys are dry before replacing them. 

Clean your mouse. If you have a separate mouse for your computer or laptop, you may want to consider cleaning it as well. However, you should first unplug it. If it's a wireless mouse, shut it off and remove the batteries if possible.

You can then use the same cleaning supplies, such as 70% isopropyl alcohol or non-bleach disinfecting wipes, to clean it your mouse. Like your other devices, you'll want to make sure to avoid getting liquid inside your mouse and let it dry before powering it up again. 

Disinfecting your smartwatch 

Unlike a laptop, most fitness trackers and smartwatches are designed to withstand a little moisture. This makes cleaning them a little easier. That having been said, make sure you consult your product manual before you start scrubbing. 

You can use 70% isopropyl alcohol or Clorox disinfecting wipes to clean the surface and screen of your watch. However, you'll need to be careful when cleaning the strap. They can be made from a variety of materials, such as leather, silicon, metal, and even fabric, and some cleaning supplies can be harmful to them.

For example, disinfecting wipes should be fine for rubber and metal bands, but shouldn't be used on leather or fabric. Make sure to check with the manufacturer to determine which options are best for your strap.

Are UV sterilizers a safe and effective option?

There are a number of products on the market that use UV light to disinfect small electronic devices, such as smartphones and smartwatches. Like a miniature tanning bed, you place your device inside, shut the door, and UV light gradually destroys germs. 

There are different types of UV light known as UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. Sterilizers like this use UV-C, which is perfect for destroying the genetic material that makes these pathogens tick. While UV electronic sterilizers will most likely kill any unwanted hitchhikers on your device, there are always new viruses and other pathogens that they have not yet been tested against.

For this reason, experts advise caution when relying on UV device cleaners. If you want to try out one of these solutions, you shouldn't substitute it for tried and true disinfecting methods. Instead, use it in combination with methods known to be effective, like isopropyl alcohol solutions and bleach-free disinfecting wipes.

Cleaning and disinfecting an electronic device

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Read more: With digital devices everywhere, it's important to make sure our kids are safe when they're browsing the internet. Read our blog for some helpful tips on how to keep children safe on the web!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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