House and Home

How Gross Is My iPhone?


Your smart phone: If it were a t-shirt, you'd wash it. But it's an expensive piece of electronic equipment, and there's no way you're tossing it in the wash with your jeans.

But you know it's dirty. Somewhere deep in the back of your mind, you're well aware that your phone is harboring horribly disgusting things — especially if you're the type of person who plays Words With Friends . Just how disgusting, though, might surprise you.

"We're talking major," says Dr. Robert Lahita, the Chairman of Medicine and Vice President of the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. "It's a sewer of contamination."

"The mouth and ears offer a lot of secretions," he further explains — secretions which include oils, sweat or saliva. And while they might not be visible, organisms within these secretions can build up over time. "Some strains of bacteria live in a gelatinous matrix, and they’ll live on your home phone, or cell phone, or computer screen if they’re not cleaned.”

Your moist face, however, isn't the only source of iPhone germs.

"The average human hand has more than 840,000 germs, and hands touch their owners' cell phones all the time," adds Donna Duberg, an assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. Therefore, a lot of the germs on our phones can be traced back to your hands, "especially if the devices are taken into the restrooms," she says.

Speaking of which, your phone is just about as dirty as a restroom. As Lahita points out, a study conducted by HML Laboratories identified extremely high levels of coliforms, which are bacteria commonly associated with fecal matter. "There were between 2,000 and 4,000 bacteria per phone," he says, whereas the acceptable limit in drinking water is one unit per every 100 milliliters.

Of course, those germs don't simply stay put. "The bacterial contamination of the hands, after using the phone, is substantial," says Lahita. “A person is just as likely to get sick from [the bacteria on] cell phones as touching the handles in the bathroom stall, or the handles on urinals.”

It's also important to remember that your cell phone touches more than just your hands. "Anytime you bring germs close to your 'T-zone' — the eyes, nose and mouth — you give them a direct route into the body," confirms Duberg. "Bacteria and viruses love the mucous membranes in these sites, and can multiply quickly."

Your smartest option, therefore, is to wash your smartphone.

“Alcohol is the best decontaminant, aside from bleach,” states Lahita, who suggests using a bit of isopropyl alcohol and a soft cloth to wipe the phone's surfaces, provided you have a screen protector to keep from damaging the device. Lahita adds that it might be beneficial to invest in a sanitizing product, such as Nice 'N Clean Electronic Wipes, as well.

Duberg strongly agrees. "Use sanitizing wipes often — at least once a day," she stresses. "And more often if you're sick, or use the cell phone in the bathroom."

In other words, you can still play Words With Friends on the toilet. You'll just need to wipe twice.