How to flu-proof your gadgets

I'm always talking about the importance of keeping your computer safe from viruses that can expose your sensitive digital information. But today, I'm going to talk about the old-fashioned, low-tech kind of virus.

A cold or flu can shut down your productivity just as quickly as any computer virus outbreak. Sneezing and coughing aren't the only way viruses spread. Flu viruses can stay active on hard surfaces for a couple of days, and those hard surfaces include computer keyboards, mice, tablets and smartphones.

If you touch a germy keyboard and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, chances are good that you'll get sick.

Your first line of defense is to get a flu shot and to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If hand washing isn’t convenient, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Cleaning your gadgets at home and at work is another great defense.

Here are a few general tips before you start cleaning. Be sure to power down your tech gear. If it uses AC power, be extra safe and unplug it.

Don't spray cleaners directly onto electronic items or let liquids seep into openings.

Avoid using alcohol-based cleaners and abrasive cloths or paper towels on touch screens and computer monitors.

Phones and tablets
Phones are like petri dishes for germs and bacteria. Folks set them down on kitchen counters, park benches and restaurant tables. The gadgets spend a lot of time in pockets and purses that contain dollar bills and other germy things.

In fact, tests show that mobile gadgets can have more bacteria than a toilet. And you put that up to your face how many times a day? Yuck!

Give your phone, and tablet, a good rubdown with a microfiber cloth to clear it of germs and bacteria. Dampen the cloth slightly for more-stubborn stains and fingerprints.

Be sure to wash your microfiber cloths -- or use antimicrobial versions -- to avoid germ buildup within the fibers.

Stick-on screen protectors can be cleaned a little more aggressively and thrown away and replaced as needed.

Computers and accessories
You're constantly touching a keyboard and mouse at work and at home. So it's a good idea to wipe them down daily during flu and cold season. It's especially important when you share a computer with others.

If your keyboard and mouse are wired, unplug them from the computer. If they're wireless, shut them off and remove the batteries.

A keyboard that hasn't been cleaned for a couple of years probably has a fair amount of bread and potato chip crumbs lodged between the keys. A few blasts of compressed air will make quick work of that chore.

Next, do a few passes with bleach-free disinfecting wipes.

Have a laptop? Clean off the keyboard and track pad the same way. Just be sure the laptop is turned off.

To clean a desktop computer case, use a disinfecting wipe to go over plastic and metal surfaces. For the display, use a soft, slightly damp lint-free cloth.

Make sure that the wipes you use aren’t overly damp. Squeeze out excess liquid before using.

Occasionally, you'll run into someone on the Internet who recommends tossing a keyboard into the dishwasher. Bad idea!

Other surfaces
You'll definitely want to wipe down the top of your desk.

If you have a landline at home or work, wipe the handle and mouthpiece regularly with a disinfecting wipe.

Place a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a box of tissues next to your computer and use them frequently. If a tissue isn't handy, sneeze and cough into your elbow to avoid broadcasting germs.

Any surface at your workplace or home should be disinfected routinely if more than one person touches it. Think remote controls, doorknobs, appliance handles and faucets.

If everyone puts in a little effort, we can all stay healthier this flu season. Now do one more thing, share this helpful article with your family, friends and co-workers.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Get the podcast or find the station nearest you at Subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters at Copyright 1995-2012, WestStar TalkRadio Network. All rights reserved.