Your smartphone is gross. Learn how to clean it properly

Everything you've touched is now on your face. Think about it.

people on their phones on a subway platform
Imagine rubbing your face on the subway rails. Yeah, you're doing that.Jens Johnsson via Unsplash

You can't see it with the naked eye, but your smartphone is likely to be crawling with bacteria—perhaps even with more than your toilet seat. Yes, that's a lot of dangerous microbes floating around, and yes, it is gross.

Besides the potential health risks of a dirty phone, the gathering of gunk and dust in your phone’s ports or around the buttons, can have an impact on its normal operation.

Then there's the simple annoyance of looking at a screen covered in fingerprint marks and other oily smudges that come with the daily grind of life with a smartphone. In short, you've got plenty of reasons to regularly give your phone a thorough clean. It would be ideal to do it every day, but doing it as often as possible is good enough.

With most phones now at least water resistant—if not waterproof—and designed to take a few knocks, cleaning your phone won’t be difficult, so you won’t accidentally end up with an overpriced paperweight. But it is a good idea to keep most of your normal cleaning products and any abrasive materials in the cupboards.

iphone on a paper towel
You can use products you already have around. Paper towels, alcohol, and cotton swabs can come in handy.David Nield

The first step is to fully power down your handset and remove any accessories you've got plugged in, whether that's charging cables or headphones. Take off the case as well if you use one, so you've got full access to all sides of the phone.

Next, you need a soft, lint-free cloth. Apple recommends a lens cloth for the job, but anything similar—like microfiber—that won't scratch or damage your phone, will do.

Dampen the cloth with a little water and wipe down the front and the back of your handset using steady, circular motions to lift off the accumulated dirt. It's a good idea to keep one end of your cloth dry or have a separate dry cloth at hand to remove excess moisture at the end. This is especially important near ports and buttons, where water might interfere with your phone's normal operation.

If your phone is fully IP68 rated for waterproofing (check the specs list if you're not sure), feel free to dunk your phone in a bowl of clean water for a minute or two. You can then dab off the moisture with a cloth, cleaning it at the same time.

smartphone between two white towels
If you're annoyed by your oily fingerprints all over your phone, you're not going to like lint sticking to your screen. Prevent that using a microfiber cloth.David Nield

For more persistent marks and dirt, you can upgrade the strength of your cleaning with some gentle face or baby wipes, or a little bit of household hand soap. If you do opt for cleaning wipes, use them sparingly and make sure they're approved for use on electrical devices.

Some experts also recommend mixing a half-and-half solution of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol at around 60-70 percent) and water. Spray it onto your cleaning cloth rather than directly to your phone to get rid of the rest of the bacteria. As long as you use these substances in small amounts and avoid harsh chemicals, you're not going to damage your device.

Next, for getting dust and particles out of ports, use cotton swabs and just aim a few sharp puffs of air from your mouth. Avoid cans of compressed air though, as the pressure can interfere with the insides of your phone.

If your charging cable hasn't been juicing up your phone as quickly as it normally does, a build-up of gunk around the main port might be one of the reasons why. Again, your microfiber cloth can come in handy here—you can use the tip of it to tease out any accumulated dirt or dust, or wrap part of it around something small and thin (like a toothpick) for the job.

two cotton swabs laying on an iphone
Cotton swabs can help you get the gunk out of ports, speakers, and all the nooks and crannies at the border of your screen.David Nield

Those are some general tips, but we'd encourage you to look online for any instructions specific to your phone. Your device’s manufacturer might have some particular tips that don't apply more broadly, or certain warnings about what not to do.

When the cleaning process has finished, leave the phone alone until the remaining moisture has had chance to dry off naturally, before turning it on again and reattaching cases and accessories. Putting it on a paper towel around it can help.

For an even more comprehensive solution, you can treat your phone to an ultraviolet light bath—a cleaning technique that science shows can help blast away certain types of bacteria from your handset. You can pick up a PhoneSoap UV Cell Phone Sanitizer for $80 on Amazon, and it'll charge your phone while it's cleaning it. Although there are still questions on how effective these UV lights are, if you can afford the extra investment, it's a helpful additional way of keeping your phone clean.