This Is How Often You Should Be Cleaning Your Phone Screen

Your phone is far dirtier than you think. Here’s how to change that.

October  6, 2020

Even though using my phone is more or less an all-day activity that involves direct contact with my hands or my face—or, let's be honest, the sidewalk—my phone’s cleaning schedule has traditionally depended less on its actual need to be cleaned, and more on whether or not I’ve happened to acquire a free alcohol wipe recently. Plus, until recently, I genuinely had no idea how often I’m actually supposed to clean my phone.

However, if the last few months have taught me anything, it is that keeping your phone sanitized is a smart way to keep germs off your fingertips. I've learned that the average user touches their phone nearly 3,000 times a day—and that the heaviest users are up to 5,427 touches a day, according to a study by web research platform dscout. During a pandemic—but also otherwise—that's far from good news.

Also, according to a study of high schoolers’ mobile phones by the journal Germs, there’s a median count of 17,032 bacterial 16S rRNA gene copies per phone. That’s about 10 times the amount of bacteria found on a toilet seat, according to a study from the University of Arizona. Yikes.

So now that we all know too much to ever go back to our old ways—especially now that disinfecting is hyper critical—let’s move forward together. According to Emily Toth Martin, an assistant epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan, it’s a good idea to disinfect your phone daily, if not more, particularly if you use your phone during meals—but Toth cleans her phone twice a day, once in the morning and again at night.

Germ experts are in agreement that our phones are indeed a potential source of contamination. Or as one doctor told Lifehacker, “The screen itself is a harbinger for carrying bacterias and viruses. There have been multiple reports of infections being transmitted by the screens of our phones.” The flu virus, for example, can survive up to 24 hours on a hard surface.

So, what’s the best way to clean your phone? Too much moisture comes with the risk of damaging your phone’s tech, so it’s best not to spray your phone with a disinfectant. Rather, spray a solution ideally of a 1 to 1 ratio of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and distilled water, or an E.P.A.-registered disinfectant, onto a dedicated cloth or microfiber wipe, and wipe your phone. Clorox Disinfecting Wipes are also a good option. And if you’re really on board, consider this super high-tech option: an ultraviolet light sanitizing box —with built-in aromatherapy diffuser!

Here is a breakdown of the steps I now regularly follow:

  1. Remove your phone case and turn off your device (I prefer to be extra cautious).
  2. Gently wipe the exterior of your phone with a soft, lint-free cloth to get rid of smudges. Microfiber is particularly good for trapping dirt and absorbing greasy marks.

  3. Spray that solution of a 1 to 1 ratio of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and distilled water onto a dedicated cloth or microfiber wipe, and wipe your phone. (Never directly onto your device!) Apple also recommends the use of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes as an alternative. Avoid the ports (openings).
  4. Let your phone air-dry for a minimum of 10 minutes. If you used a lysol wipe: the manufacturer says these wipes need about four minutes to disinfect.

  5. Wipe away all leftover moisture with a clean paper towel.
  6. Finally, clean your phone case. According to Apple, with cases made of hard durable plastic or silicone, you can “use a clean cloth with warm water and mild hand soap to gently clean. You can also use a mild cleaner along with a dry clean cloth.“ Leather cases, they suggest, will need specialized cleaners.

A year ago, this might all have struck me as excessive. But with the state of the world what it is, it seems particularly prudent to start practicing better phone hygiene as soon as possible (like, go clean your phone right now). And of course, continuing to practice more diligent personal hygiene as well—a clean phone is nothing if our hands aren't clean, too.

How often do you really clean your phone screen? Tell us in the comments below!

This article last appeared in March, 2020. It has since been edited, and we are re-running it because it's more relevant than ever.
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jamcook November 2, 2022
So easy to use the little sealed alcohol pads like the ones used before an injection.
witloof October 25, 2020
I wonder, though, even if your phone is dirty, if you have a decent immune system, won't it take care of that for you? I find this kind of article frustrating because it sets up a fear that shouldn't be there {c'mon, who has gotten deathly ill from touching a phone?}. Don't we have enough to worry about without being afraid to touch our phones?
ArdhaniUlf August 14, 2020
Thank you to your article. Your tips is inspiring. And here is a great way I found to cleans a phone. I hope it helps some others.
Victoria M. May 18, 2020
Since COVID, every time I touch something outside the house and touch my phone (like using a point-of-sale at the grocery store), I will disinfect my phone and wash my hands. I disinfect my phone daily anyway because I can’t stand my own fingerprints! I use 70% alcohol spray, which I keep on my desk. A note about disinfectant wipes, check with your manufacturer for the safest way to clean your screen versus the casing. And, don’t forget the casing that also needs to be disinfected!
Katie F. February 12, 2020
I like to disinfect things such as my phone, earphones, hands, etc with clinell universal wipes as I know I can trust those when they say they kill 99.999% of germs, as alcohol doesn't actually kill all common pathogens :)
Aribakes October 20, 2019
I use pure alcohol & clean my mobile daily. However, I’m forwarding this article to my husband ASAP because he gives me dirty looks when I call his mobile a germ bomb.
Sandra S. October 20, 2019
I wipe my phone down with a germ free NORWEX cloth that has micro silver threads in it that kill germs.
CoffeeAndBaconYum October 20, 2019
Does the phone need to be powered down before wiping with the microfiber cloth with the isopropyl alcohol & distilled water solution?
JoAnne L. October 20, 2019
No, I clean my phone while it’s on.