The truth? Our phones are one of the dirtiest items we own.

Say it isn't so!

You might be surprised just how filthy your mobile phone is, surpassing the average toilet seat by about 10x. Gross. It’s also dirtier than the bottom of your shoes or the inside of your dog’s food dish. Studies reveal time and again that our phones are carrying disease-causing microbes and even faecal matter. Double gross.

Unfortunately, due to our constant use of mobile phones---plus a couple of other factors---these devices are a hotbed for germs and bacteria. But with the right approach, we can keep them cleaner. Here’s the dirty truth, and what you can do about it.

What’s On Our Phones

Why are our phones so dirty? One of the primary reasons is our own behaviour. The average person checks their mobile phone approximately once every 12 minutes, or 80 times per day. This means our hands are on our devices nonstop, and they are likely accompanying us on nearly every errand and activity, perhaps even when we visit the toilet.

While you might think of yourself as a particularly clean person, and a frequent hand -washer, your hands are actually one of your worst culprits. These appendages are in use constantly, touching everything from door handles to cash to sink taps. Along the way, your hands are capable of collecting enormous amounts of germs. From the fingertips to the elbow, you’ll find an average of 2 and 10 million bacteria. Ew.

And you can’t trust other people to be clean either. Research shows that 95% of people don't wash their hands properly. If you're shaking hands with colleagues or touching something that anyone else has ever touched (basically, everything) there’s serious germ potential.

Suffice it to say, germs are abundant, and they’re going to end on your mobile phone.

A second reason that our phones are so dirty is the heat they produce. Warm environments are where bacteria thrive. Unfortunately, your phone has its own necessary heat-producing mechanisms, and you’re only adding to its warm environment by holding the device in your hands or storing it in your pockets. Those toasty atmospheres mean bacteria can grow and spread.

Your phone is a breeding ground for a wide variety of different organisms; one scientific study discovered roughly 7,000 types of bacteria in 51 smartphone samples. Before you panic, it’s important to note that many of these bacteria are actually naturally occurring, good-for-us bacteria. Much of what is found on our phones is also what is found in our hands and mouths. That same study revealed that 22% of bacterial families overlapped on fingers and phones. A doctor involved with the study said that mobile phones “carry our own personal biome,” which is one way of looking at things.

Diseases and illness can spread through surfaces such as our phones

But of course, there are bad bacteria, too. It’s those pathogenic bacteria and other germs you need to be mindful of. Here’s what might be lurking on your mobile:

E. coli

In one study, 16% of phones sampled were found to have E. coli present. This is a type of bacteria that can live in the intestines and be transferred via faecal matter. It causes ailments such as food poisoning, diarrhoea, or occasionally more serious illness.

Staphylococcus aureus

Another common bacteria found on mobile phones is Staphylococcus aureus. This bacteria can be harmful or not depending upon the strain, but certain kinds are responsible for staph infections---typically minor skin infections that can be treated with antibiotics. However, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, is a more serious type of staph bacteria that can cause potentially life-threatening infections. In the healthcare settings, where MRSA has been known to spread, it can lead to pneumonia, surgical site infections, or bloodstream infections. This has lead to a great deal of research regarding the role of mobile phones in a hospital or healthcare setting, with many facilities putting stricter phone-cleaning standards in place for their staff.

Influenza

Nobody wants to catch the flu, but this virus can find its way to you via a mobile device. Able to survive on surfaces for as long as 24 hours, is another phone fiend to be avoided. If you don’t want to be ill in bed for a week or more, best get that phone cleaned up regularly.

Clostridium difficile

This bacteria can cause unfortunate bouts of diarrhoea. Let’s just leave it at that.

Streptococcus

The source of strep throat, an illness more common in children, streptococcus bacteria can also cause scarlet fever, impetigo, toxic shock syndrome, or necrotising fasciitis (a flesh-eating disease).

Think This is Dirty? Your Phone is Worse

In case you’re still not convinced that your mobile phone is a handheld cesspool, consider the following:

The typical mobile phone is carrying over 25,000 bacteria per square inch. This is dirtier than a kitchen counter (showing 1,736 bacteria per square inch), your dog’s food fish (2,110 bacteria per square inch), and even the common doorknob (8,643 bacteria per square inch). And of course, the most shocking of the facts: your phone is dirtier than a toilet seat.

petri dish phone bacteria
This is what’s hidden on the typical mobile phone.

Avoiding Sticky Situations - Keeping Dirt and Grime off Your Device

Now that you know just how disgusting your mobile phone can be, you may feel like getting rid of it altogether. Such drastic measures are quite unnecessary, however, and instead, you can follow a few simple rules to protect your phone---and your health.

Don’t share your phone with others

Bacteria and viruses are both spread by contact with others, and the presence of these microbes on your phone is a key way to facilitate that contact. One piece of good news is that you are likely resistant to much of the germs currently populating the surface of your phone. This means that if you are the only person using your phone, you’ll likely avoid contamination. However, if you share your phone frequently with others, the chances of acquiring more viruses and bacteria on that phone are higher. To stay your safest, try to avoid sharing your phone with other individuals. While this might be a tough rule to stick to 100% of the time, you’ll have a cleaner phone if you keep your device to yourself.

Don’t bring your phone to the toilet

It’s shocking how many of us admit to using our phone while visiting the toilet. It seems these mobile devices are so addicting we can barely put them down! Sadly, the bathroom is a highly unclean environment and might be responsible for most of the gross bacteria that end up on our phones. Experts say that stopping the practice of carrying your phone along to the toilet with you is key for minimising germs. When you need to use the toilet, simply leave your phone at your desk, or at least put in your pocket or handbag. It will be there when you return, clean (or at least cleaner) and ready to be used.

Don’t bring your phone to the gym

The gym is another place where many of us enjoy using our mobile phones. But these spots are rampant with bacterial growth. The typical gym sees perhaps hundreds of members visiting daily, each of whom is using the machines, free weights, and other equipment, perspiring all the while. Want to get your gym on? Leave the phone at home. If you’re insistent on bringing your device to the gym (for listening to music or recording workout stats, for instance) be sure to wipe it down thoroughly after your session.

Don’t use your phone while eating

If you’re wanting to transmit fewer bacteria to your mobile phone, it’s a good idea to put the device aside during mealtimes. Your mouth is one of the leading ways you can catch a germ, so keeping your dirty phone away while you’re eating is a smart habit.

Learn to wash your hands properly

The truth is, most of the germs that end up on your phone come from the surfaces it touches as well as your hands. Keeping those hands as clean as possible is the first line of defence for your mobile phone. Wash your hands often throughout the day, and always after using the toilet and before and after eating. Take time to learn how to wash your hands thoroughly and correctly. Far too many people rush through the hand-washing process or miss crucial steps altogether. Hand Hygiene Australia has valuable info here.

Clean your phone on a regular basis

Be sure to wipe and clean your device on a regular basis. Experts suggest that once every couple of weeks should be sufficient, but if you’re in particularly germ-heavy environments (or if you can’t seem to break that ‘bringing the phone to the toilet’ habit) you may want to consider cleaning it more frequently. Read on for the best methods of cleaning your mobile phone.

Devices go with us everywhere. Are there certain places they shouldn't go?

How to Cleanse & Sanitise Your Phone

Your phone definitely is due for a cleaning, but as we all know, water and electronics don’t mix. What’s a mobile phone user to do?

Listen to the experts.

There’s plenty of information available out there to instruct you on the best ways of sanitising your dirty device. Here’s a helpful YouTube video that can assist you with a step-by-step process for cleaning and disinfecting your phone.

You should wipe down your phone using a lint-free or microfibre cloth. This will prevent any scratches or other damage the phone’s surface. Don’t use antibacterial wipes or regular disinfectants, however, as these are abrasive and can harm your device.

You can use the microfibre cloth to wipe away dirt and germs without using liquid, but when you’re ready to disinfect, use a diluted alcohol mixture.* In a spray bottle, combine 60% water (ideally distilled water) and 40% isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Lightly spray your cloth and gently wipe down your device, removing any excess moisture when finished.

*It’s important to note that mobile phone manufacturers generally do not recommend using any products with alcohol, ammonia and other cleaning substances on your phone, so proceed at your own risk.

To access the creases and small openings on the phone, such as the headphone jack, you can use a dry cotton swab and carefully remove any dirt and grime.

Voila! Your phone is clean and ready for use. With frequent cleanings, you can feel a bit better about what’s on your phone’s surface.

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