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Your phone is grosser than you think. Here's how to clean it the right way

Heads up, hand sanitizer is not the answer. We'll show you to disinfect your phone without doing damage.

phone-screen

Make sure you're cleaning your phone the right way.

Derek Poore/CNET

If you have a new iPhone 13 or Galaxy S21 you're probably looking for ways to make your phone last as long as possible. But it's probably filled with all sorts of germs and dirt. Think about everything you touch -- door handles, buttons, and even pens. Between the ongoing spread of coronavirus and the flu, you should regularly disinfect frequently touched items. Yes, that includes your phone. 

You should clean your phone at least once a day by following your phone's manual for cleaning instructions. Cleaning your device the wrong way (like using rubbing alcohol and paper towels) can strip away coatings that protect your screen. Usually, a disinfectant wipe or microfiber cloth will do the trick. 

We'll show you the most common ways to clean your phone free of germs and gunk the right way, especially for phones rated for water resistance. We've recently updated this story. 

Use disinfectant wipes or the right alcohol-based solution

If you touch your phone after touching a public door handle or grocery cart, your first thought might be to clean it with rubbing alcohol. Don't. Straight alcohol can strip the oleophobic and hydrophobic coatings that keep oil and water from damaging your phone's display and other ports. 

Some websites suggest creating a mix of alcohol and water yourself, but it's crucial to get the concentration right. Get it wrong and you could damage your phone. The safest bet is to use disinfectant wipes that contain 70% isopropyl alcohol to clean your phone screen. 

springclean

Drop the window cleaner and counter spray, now.

Derek Poore/CNET

Before the pandemic, we were instructed to not use disinfectant wipes on our phone screens, but Apple says it's OK to use Clorox Wipes and others with similar concentrations. 

AT&T's cleaning guidelines suggest that you "spray a nonabrasive or alcohol-based (70% isopropyl) disinfectant directly on a soft lint-free cloth and wipe down your device while it is powered down and unplugged." Samsung has also said you can create an alcohol-based solution of 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, applied with a microfiber cloth.

Another option for day-to-day cleaning is investing in a UV light, such as PhoneSoap. This UV light company claims its product kills 99.99% of germs and banishes bacteria. As far as we know, it hasn't been tested in relation to this strain of coronavirus.

Get rid of fingerprints with a microfiber cloth

Fingerprint smudges are hard to prevent because your skin constantly produces oils. That means that every time you pick up your phone, it's bound to get fingerprints all over it.

The safest and most effective way to clean your screen is with a microfiber cloth. If the screen is in desperate need of cleaning, use distilled water to dampen the microfiber cloth and then wipe down your screen -- avoid squirting the water directly on the screen. This method can be used on the back and sides of your phone, too.

You can also try a microfiber screen cleaner sticker, which you stick to the back of your phone and can pop off when you need to give it a wipe-down.

Check out Samsung's tips on cleaning your phone, too.

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dirty phone screen

Remove your fingerprint smudges and other muck with these cleaning tips.

warat42/iStockphoto

Remove sand and lint with this tape trick

Lint and sand can get stuck in the small ports of your phone and in the crevices where the screen meets the body. 

The best way to remove sand and lint is Scotch tape. You can lay it along the creases and speaker, and roll it up and gently place it in the ports. The tape's stickiness will pull out any lint or sand that may be stuck in your phone.

For the smaller speaker holes that tape can't reach, use a toothpick (gently) or try to vacuum the debris out with a small crevice tool. These tools can also be used for other small appliances or hard-to-reach areas in your car.

Wipe away makeup with a damp cloth 

When you have a full face of makeup and need to make a call, guess what that foundation is about to stick to? That's right, your phone screen. And while you may use makeup remover to take off your makeup every night, you shouldn't use it as a screen cleaner due to some chemicals that could be lurking in the ingredients. (Organics.org explains the chemicals that could be in your makeup remover.)

Instead, you could get your phone its own makeup remover, such as Whoosh. The company claims its product is safe for all screens and contains no alcohol, chlorine, ammonia or phosphates that could damage the various screen coatings.

You can also use a damp microfiber cloth to clean the phone -- and then throw that cloth in the wash. Make sure to use a spray bottle to spritz the cloth, rather than running it under water. The less water, the better.

How to clean waterproof phones

If you have a water-resistant phone, rated for IP67 and above, you can rinse it with water. Although these phones, like the new iPhone 13 and the Galaxy S phones, can withstand submersion for up to 30 minutes in up to 3 feet of water, it's a much better idea to use a damp or wet cloth to clean your phone. Then dry your phone with a dry, soft cloth to remove the water. Make sure to pat dry all speakers and ports.

Dunking the phone in water or running it under a faucet will get water into the ports, which means you won't be able to charge it until they're dry, and that can take time. Remember that having a water-resistant phone is more about peace of mind in case of accidents than it is about purposely taking your phone for a swim.

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If you make a call while wearing makeup, guess what gets on your phone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Avoid these items when cleaning your phone

We're here to warn you, not shame you, but drop that bottle of Windex, stat. Here are a few products you should never use to clean your phone. 

Hand sanitizer

Since some hand sanitizers have ingredients like fragrances and ethyl alcohol, it's best to keep sanitizer off your phone's screen. However, if you've touched anything outside your home, you should sanitize your hands before touching your phone to prevent viruses and bacteria from spreading. For best results, use a manufacturer's hand sanitizer rather than making your own at home (they're not as effective).

Window cleaner

You clean your mirrors and windows with window cleaner, and they're squeaky-clean, so window cleaner must be OK to use on your phone? Wrong! Some newer phones, such as the iPhone XR ($499 at Amazon), have a protective coating that resists water and oil and that can wear out over time.

Using harsh cleaners can strip the coating and could leave your phone more vulnerable to scratches. James LeBeau, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at MIT, told us that any cleanser with an abrasive agent will likely scratch the surface, so those should be avoided entirely.

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Kitchen cleaners

A screen's scratch-resistant properties won't get ground down by cleaning agents, but stripping that protective coating is still a problem. That's why Apple also suggests not using household cleaning products to clean your iPhone, including bleach. Bar Keepers Friend, for example, states that its abrasive formula may harm the protective layerBon Ami states not to use on glass with coatings. 

Paper towels

They may be the go-to for cleaning your desk, but keep them away from your phone. The paper can shred, making the debris on your phone much worse. Paper towels can even end up leaving scratches on your screen. 

Rubbing alcohol

Since many newer phones have a protective coating, rubbing alcohol can wear it away more quickly over time, causing your phone to be more prone to scratches. Make sure to check for alcohol in the product ingredients on any "safe to use" phone screen cleaners. Apple says to avoid alcohol when cleaning its devices.

Makeup remover

Some makeup removers may have chemicals that can be harsh to an electronic screen. LeBeau suggests avoiding makeup remover and instead, using a soft cloth with a little bit of water.

Compressed air

Your phone is delicate, so blowing an intense amount of air into its portals can cause damage, especially to your mic. Tech companies, like Apple, specifically warn not to use compressed air.

Dish soap and hand soap

While your dish and hand soaps may be gentle, the only way to use them is to combine them with water. Most phone companies suggest keeping water away from your phone, so again, stick to a damp cloth.

Vinegar

This is a no-no. Vinegar will strip the screen's coating. You could, as Lifehacker suggests, use very diluted vinegar to cleanse other parts of your phone. Android Central suggests a 50/50 mix with distilled water for cleaning the sides and back.

If you're thinking about getting a new phone, check out Apple's iPhone 13 lineup and the latest Galaxy Z-fold phones. And here's the latest on the Pixel 6 that is coming soon.