You set your phone down on the bathroom counter, toss it into the depths of your bag, and text with it all day long — even when your fingers are covered in food residue. And yet the times you actually sanitize it are probably few and far between. So what happens when you don't clean your phone?
Besides a streaky screen or sticky phone case, not giving it the occasional once over can expose you to quite a few germs. In fact, studies have shown just how dirty phones are, with some carrying the likes of the bacteria E. coli and even the flu virus. "These studies showed [...] bacteria and viruses can be present on [our] phones and also found that most people do not take the time to disinfect their phones," Dr. Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Bustle.
While that doesn't guarantee you'll get sick, "more exposure to more viruses and bacteria has the potential [to] affect us when our immune systems are a little compromised," Ilyas says. So if it's cold and flu season, you may want to take an extra second to clean your phone. And this is especially true if you've been interacting with sick coworkers, or using your phone in the bathroom where many germs lurk.
"Just be mindful of the fact that we are always clinging to our phones," Ilyas says. "I know I’ve heard people tapping away on their phones when in public bathrooms, for example. If you come out and wash your hands but do not wipe down your phone then you may just transfer the bacteria back to your hands the second you pick [it up] again!"
A dirty phone can also impact your skin. They are covered in bacteria, but also "oils, makeup, and dead skin cells," Dr. Jason Miller, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group, tells Bustle. These oils are then transferred from the screen to your skin when making calls, as well as from your fingers if you text and then touch your skin.
"Over time [the] skin gets re-exposed to these materials causing clogged pores and breakouts," Miller says. "In addition, the pressure of holding the phone against your skin can cause inflammation of the oil glands, leading to breakouts."
A germ-ridden phone might explain why you have acne on your cheeks or chin, but it can also lead to other skin issues. "Some studies have found dangerous bacteria such as staphylococcus on phones, which can lead to more serious infections such as impetigo," Miller says. This is a highly contagious infection that can cause sores on the face, and is definitely worth avoiding — which is something you can easily do.
"Many of these risks can be lowered by cleaning your phone regularly, or using a bluetooth headset that minimizes contact between your phone and your skin," Miller says. "Ideally your phone should be cleaned once or twice daily." The best practice is to carry a microfiber cloth around with you, he says, in order to wipe oils and makeup from your screen.
To disinfect your phone and kill germs , all you need to do is use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, Miller says. Get it slightly damp then wipe the front, back, and sides of your phone, and don't forget your phone case. "There are also commercially available phone wipes that can be carried with you," Miller says.
A dirty phone can certainly spread germs, cause your skin to break out, and potentially even make you sick. But as with any germ-y surface, it's simply about remembering to clean it off on a more regular basis. Simple as that.
Mohamedin, A., Elsayed, A., & Nashnoush, H. (2019). Bacterial Contamination of Mobile Phones Healthcare Versus Non-Healthcare Workers at Mansoura City, Egypt. Journal of Plant Protection and Pathology, 10(2), 101–109. doi: 10.21608/jppp.2019.40886
Dr. Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology, LLC
Dr. Jason Miller, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group