How to Clean Your Phone, Computer & Every Other Screen You’ve Got

With or without Apple’s new polishing cloth.

November 16, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

If you’re a person living in the 21st century, then you probably have plenty of screens in your life. If you think about it, these are the things we spend most of our days staring at—everything from the television to our phones, laptops, tablets and e-readers, smart watches, and desktop computers have screens.

These modern innovations have made our lives easier, more connected, and enjoyable, even though they can contribute to less sleep and some literal headaches, but that’s a conversation for another time. What we’re focusing on here is how gross all of those screens can get. Touch screens, like the ones on some tablets, phones, and smart watches, pick up the germs from every single other thing we touch in the world, from grubby cash to grocery-store door handles. And at home, computer and TV screens attract all types of dust, dander, and allergens after years of use and very little cleaning.

Apple recently introduced a $19 Polishing Cloth to the market to clean all of the screens on its products, and it quickly became a running joke on the internet, but it actually completely sold out and is now backordered through January—so who’s laughing now? This sends a clear message that not only are the devices in our lives in desperate need of cleaning, we also have no idea how to do it. While Apple’s cloth is one way to get the job done, there are plenty of other tools you can use (that you likely already own) with methods that are straightforward and manufacturer- or internet-tested and approved. And we’ve listed all of them, below. Phew.

How to Clean an iPhone Screen (or Android or other smartphone)

You can certainly go the route that Apple would like and purchase its new cleaning cloth (it will work on non-Apple devices, too). Simply wipe or gently rub the soft, nonabrasive polisher across the screen until it shines.

For iPhone models 11 through 13, Apple previously advised turning the phone off and using a soft and slightly damp (definitely not “wet”) cloth—something like the piece of fabric that comes with most sun or eyeglasses (and basically what the Apple Polishing Cloth is)—and gently wipe the screen with it. Try not to get any moisture in the seams around the edge of the screen and the phone’s side buttons, or in the openings at the top or bottom of the phone. Don’t use any cleaners in an aerosol spray can or window cleaners like Windex. A gentle soap (like a baby shampoo or gentle hand soap) can be used with a damp cloth if necessary, but use it sparingly.

If you need to disinfect your phone, investing in a UV cleaning product for electronics like Phone Soap, could be a great investment (or gift). Or, you could use a plain, clean white T-shirt, dip a corner in isopropyl alcohol (which can be picked up at any drugstore) to dip in water and wipe the phone. Be careful not to wet it too much, although any iPhone 7 or later and waterproof Androids should be fine with a little dampness. Grab an unused corner of the shirt to dry it up.

How to Clean a Smartwatch Screen

Since smartwatches are made with the same, or very similar, materials as our smartphones, the same rules apply. Turn it off, unplug it, wipe it down with a dry or lightly damp microfiber cloth.

How to Clean a Computer Screen

Mac users will also be happy to know that cleaning their computer screens—whether lap or desktop—is just as simple as cleaning their phone screens. Apple recommends using “the cloth that came with the display—or another soft, dry, lint-free cloth,” like that T-shirt we mentioned, to wipe any dust from the screen. If additional cleaning is required, slightly dampen the cloth with water or a cleaner intended for use with a screen or display, then wipe the screen. Avoid getting moisture in openings.

If you don’t have a Mac or the cloth it came with, there are computer-specific wipes made just for this job that you can easily order, or follow these simple steps:

1. First, turn your computer off and make sure it isn’t connected to a charger.
2. Grab a spray bottle and fill it with one-part distilled water (regular tap water has minerals in it that could damage the screen) and one-part white vinegar.
3. Shake it up and spray your microfiber or lint-free cloth (or T-shirt)—never spray the screen itself or you risk getting way too much liquid onto it and past the outer layer of your keyboard. Use gentle, circular motions to wipe down the screen until it looks clean.

How to Clean a TV Screen

Unsurprisingly, there is also a TV-specific cleaning solution on the market, but, even more unsurprisingly, we have another little trick to do it yourself with household items. Again, we’re reaching for a soft, clean T-shirt. We’re opting for this over a lens cleaning cloth because TV screens are much bigger than phone screens and that little guy just isn’t the person for this job.

First, we’re going to dust the screen with something meant specifically to pick up dust, like a Swiffer duster or something similar, but don’t press too hard or you might risk damaging the delicate screen. This should be enough for most TVs, but if there’s a particular spot or streak that won’t budge, move to the next step.

If you have an LCD or OLED TV, or an older plasma or even older tube TV, nearly every manufacturer says the same thing: Don’t use any harsh chemicals or alcohols as they can ruin the screen and your picture permanently. Instead, spray a little bit of distilled water onto your cloth and gently clean the screen. In the most extreme circumstances, where these steps aren’t doing the trick, Panasonic says you can add a drop of very mild soap—the ratio is 100:1 with 100 being water and 1 being soap—to your spray.

How to Clean a Tablet Screen

You guessed it, we’re busting out that old T-shirt or microfiber cloth again. One of the reasons we’re using these on touch screens instead of a paper towel is because of the technology built into the screen. A paper towel is much more abrasive and can actually scratch and damage screens. We’re also going to, again, stay away from harsh chemicals here for the same reason—they can strip away the oleophobic coating that’s on the screen, which protects the tablet’s technology and keeps it relatively smudge-free. Instead, reach for that isopropyl alcohol and distilled water one more time, spray it on the cloth and wipe down the screen.

Did you buy Apple’s Polishing Cloth? Have a better idea for your screens? Share ‘em with us!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Smaug
  • Liz Summers
    Liz Summers
Ariel Scotti

Written by: Ariel Scotti

Writer who’s never met a book, pasta or pup she didn’t love.


Smaug November 16, 2021
Word of warning- I have no idea what these screens are made of, but alcohol (my go to for glasses lenses and such) will absolutely destroy acrylics.
Liz S. November 16, 2021
Most current screens (phone and tablets) are "Gorilla Glass" ... I believe that is trademark and I'm unclear how to denote that in a comment. It is a chemically strengthened glass (6th or 7th generation currently ... by Corning). Now, there is likely some coating that is not particularly alcohol friendly, but I've not had any issues in years of cleaning.
Liz S. November 16, 2021
RE the UV box cleaners ... do your research. Per my reading, UV does NOT kill rna virus which COVID is (so is the "common cold). And the box cleaners are low dose. I have one and do use it along with light alcohol bath for phone/keys/glasses. The consumer UV boxes are most effective against bacteria (vs virus) per the instruction that came with mine. BUT, other info says that UV can make the virus less effective. I think it is again something not definitive ... read all carefully!