Experts Explain How Often You Should Be Cleaning Your Phone, Laptop, Desk, & More Right Now

by Eden Lichterman
Originally Published: 
Close-up Of Man Hand Cleaning Laptop

Can you think of the last time you disinfected your cell phone screen or cleaned in between the keys on your keyboard? Me neither. As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rises across the United States and globally, you're probably examining your everyday hygiene habits extra closely. A simple way to reduce contact with unwanted viruses is to clean the household items you use regularly, like your phone or computer.

Though the risk to the general public remains low, the virus has been spreading in communities throughout the U.S. Symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, include fever, shortness of breath, and cough. Most people will only experience mild symptoms similar to a flu, but the disease can turn fatal, especially for people who are already immunocompromised. And even if coronavirus is nowhere near your community, the flu is still making its way throughout the country, and cleaning your home can help prevent that disease's transmission, too.

"We can all do our part to stay healthy and limit the spread of the disease by washing our hands frequently, staying home until at least 24 hours after you’re feeling better, and keeping public surfaces clean," says Will Kimbrough, MD, Senior Medical Director of Clinical Services and National Virtual Medical Director at One Medical.

"People should take the same measures [for the coronavirus] that they do for the flu or any other virus," Dr. Janine Kelly, M.D., an attending physician at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, previously told Bustle. "Don’t touch surfaces that someone who has sick has touched. Wash your hands regularly and use sanitizer. Avoid contact with people who are sneezing and coughing."

The CDC recommends using any of the disinfecting products recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), such as Clorox or Purell disinfecting wipes, to clean household goods. "SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19 is a quite delicate virus. It is inactivated by normal detergents such as those found in soaps and household cleaners, and also by alcohols, such as those found in hand sanitizers and glass cleaners," Dr. Paul Bieniasz, a virologist and professor at The Rockefeller University, tells Bustle.

Frequently washing your hands for 20 seconds — making sure to lather the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails — can help reduce the amount of virus germs that end up on your belongings in the first place.

How Long Does Coronavirus Live On Surfaces?

As with any virus, the coronavirus spreads when a person infected with it coughs or sneezes, and those respiratory droplets land on another person in close contact who touches their face or eyes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds that it's possible to get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it. That's why keeping the things you use regularly clean can help kill the virus.

Coronavirus can live on surfaces for as long as two to three days, according to a new test by the U.S. government. “What we need to be doing is washing our hands, being aware that people who are infected may be contaminating surfaces,” Dr. Julie Fischer, a microbiology professor at Georgetown University, told AP News. Researchers on the study note the test doesn't prove that anyone has been infected with the virus by touching a coronavirus-contaminated surface, but it's still important to take safety precautions.

How Does Disinfecting Kill Coronavirus?

The EPA recently released a list of disinfectants that will kill coronavirus. The approved wipes and cleansers on that list are strong enough to ward off viruses that are "harder-to-kill" than SARS-CoV-2, another name for coronavirus. These products qualified for consideration through the EPA's Emerging Viral Pathogen program, which allows manufacturers to share data with the EPA about the efficacy of their products against hard-to-kill viruses.

For guidance on what objects to clean and how often you should clean them, check out the list below.

How To Clean Your iPhone

Since your phone spends so much time near your face, it's a good idea to keep it germ-free. Wipe your phone down with one of the EPA-approved disinfectant wipes. Make sure to remove your case and clean both the phone and the case in their entirety. Apple also released updated guidelines about how to clean your iPhone, given that it's so sensitive to moisture. After unplugging your iPhone and turning it off, use either a disinfectant wipe or slightly damp cloth to wipe down the screen.

How To Clean Your Computer

To clean your computer, start by giving it a good shake. That will allow all the crumbs and dust accumulated between your keys to fall out. You can also use compressed air to get rid of any hard-to-reach particles. After that, turn to your trusty disinfectant wipes to rid the top of the keys of any COVID-19 germs. If you're in an office and commuting back and forth, it's a good idea to at least wipe down your computer each time it enters a new room.

How To Clean Your Desk

To effectively clean your desk, first remove any papers or objects covering the surface. Once you can see the entire surface of your desk, including under picture frames and your keyboard, use a disinfectant wipe to thoroughly clean it. Using alcohol-based wipes on a large surface may dry out your hands, but it's worth it to reduce your chances of exposure to viruses.

How To Clean Your Wallet

Since you probably reach for cash or cards most days, you should also disinfect your wallet during the coronavirus outbreak. This may not be the time to use your favorite leather wallet for day-to-day, since bleach and leather tend not to mix.

How To Clean Your Bag

Similarly, you may not want to use a nice, leather bag during the coronavirus outbreak. Instead opt for a bag that you don't mind rubbing down with a disinfectant wipe. A pleather bag that you don't mind wiping down, or a canvas one that you can throw in the wash, will work well.

How To Clean Your Keys

A simple way to clean your house keys, according to Apartment Therapy, involves a bowl of warm water, dish soap, and an old toothbrush. Add a few drops of dish soap into the water and mix around the solution. Dunk your keys in the solution and scrub them with the toothbrush for a couple minutes. Give the keys one last rinse to get off any loose debris and dry them off with a towel. After they're sufficiently free of grime, use a disinfectant wipe to rid them of any COVID-19 germs.

How To Clean Your AirPods

To clean your AirPods, wipe them down with a soft, dry, lint-free cloth. Apple warns against submerging AirPods in running water or cleaning agents. If there are stains on your headphones, Apple says it's OK to wipe them with a slightly damp cloth, avoiding the speaker mesh. It's also OK to use disinfectant wipes on your Pods to rid them of viral germs, as long as they don't contain bleach.

How To Clean Reusable Grocery Bags

Depending on the type of reusable grocery bags you use, the American Cleaning Institute recommends different cleaning procedures during the coronavirus outbreak. If your bags are made of woven or non-woven polypropylene, cotton, bamboo, or hemp, machine wash them on a gentle cycle with cold water and hang them to dry after each use. If your bags are made of nylon, polyester, or insulated fabric, hand wash them with with soap and warm water or wipe them down with disinfectant wipes after each use.

How To Clean Your Toothbrush, Retainers, Or Aligners

Hopefully you're using your toothbrush twice a day and using your orthodontic gear as prescribed — right? It's a good idea to swap out your toothbrush every three to four months, per the American Dental Association (ADA). That said, the ADA doesn't recommend throwing your toothbrush out after you've been sick, since you have a very low chance of re-infecting yourself.

For clear aligners or retainers, Dr. Lynn Hurst, DDS, Chief Clinical Officer of Candid advises washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before removing them. "When removed, it is best to clean your aligners/retainers by brushing them with a toothbrush and room temperature water. If that isn't possible, at a minimum, rinse your aligners/retainers with room temperature water." Hurst suggests washing your hands or using hand sanitizer before you put your retainers or aligners back in, too.

How To Clean Packages

While it's possible that coronavirus could travel on the surface of a package, it's highly unlikely because of the length of the package's journey and the different conditions it faces as it makes its way through the delivery system, Dr. Jack Caravanos, clinical professor of Environmental Public Health Sciences at the NYU School of Global Public Health, told CBS News. The WHO also makes this point, saying, "The risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low." It's important to consistently clean and disinfect the items you use every day, but packages are one item you don't have to worry about.

How To Clean Remote Controls

Since many people are working remotely, and the CDC has recommended social distancing, you may be spending more time at home watching TV. You should be cleaning your remote control. Before you begin the cleaning process, remove the batteries. Similar to a phone screen or keyboard, use an alcohol-based disinfectant wipe to rub down the remote. Make sure to get in the crevices between the buttons and shake the remote over a trash can to remove any excess debris.

How To Clean Thermometers

It's also important to clean your thermometer. According to the CDC, you should clean your thermometer after every use with lukewarm water and soap. To disinfect the thermometer, you should wipe it down with alcohol-based wipes or rubbing alcohol.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.


Dr. Will Kimbrough, MD, Senior Medical Director of Clinical Services and National Virtual Medical Director at One Medical.

Dr. Janine Kelly, M.D., attending physician at Maimonides Medical Center

Dr. Lynn Hurst, D.D.S., Chief Clinical Officer of Candid

Dr. Jack Caravanos, clinical professor of Environmental Public Health Sciences at the NYU School of Global Public Health

Dr. Julie Fischer, a microbiology professor at Georgetown University

Dr. Paul Bieniasz, a virologist and professor at The Rockefeller University

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