Germy gadgets

Putting cleaners to the test

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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We have a "dirty question" for you: what's a germ-ridden object you carry around with you and use all the time?  If you said your smartphone or tablet, you're correct! One study revealed your smartphone could be dirtier than a toilet seat! So how do you get rid of those germs?  There are lots of products on the market that claim to disinfect your phone, but do they really work and are they worth the cost?

College students let their smartphones be swabbed for germs, and when they saw the results they were shocked!

"I use it for everything, and I, I have it in bed with me and I eat with it next to me, so I think my exposure is, is high," said college student Xandy Peterson.

So what do many people use to try to clean off this microscopic gunk?

"My idea of cleaning my phone is wiping it on my shirt or my pants," said Koyia Tuttle, also a college student.

That may not be the best way to kill germs, but do you have to shell out cash for specialized phone "hygiene products"?  Peterson and her classmates volunteered their devices to try products that claim to disinfect or sanitize electronics.   

Working with microbiology professor Dr. Charles Gerba, a top researcher on mobile equipment and the spread of germs from the University of Arizona, we tested how these products tackle bacteria.

"With mobile equipment we've made more germs more mobile today.  They can move around," said Gerba.

First, PhoneKleen wipes claim to disinfect cell phones. They cost about $20, but do they work?

"They reduced the number of bacteria to an undetectable level," said Gerba.

CleanWell disinfectant spray says it kills 99.99 percent of germs.  It costs about $8 a canister.  Gerba says it got rid of about 95.5%.

"The spray solution seemed to eliminate the number of bacteria very readily from the surface," he added.

And what about UV light cleaners?  One UV disinfector says it kills 99 percent of germs, It sells for under $10 and had to tackle the dirtiest phone of the bunch. The test results showed it reduced about 73 percent of germs. 

A more expensive clean wave sanitizing wand, which runs about $40, makes the same claim, and Gerba says it reduced the germs down to zero.

Gerba's impression of all the gadgets?

"I was surprised that all of them seemed to work fairly well in reducing the number of germs on the phones," he said.

While getting germs off your phone is important, experts say you have to be sure not to wreck it in the process.  Todd Hasleton, an electronics expert, says be careful with things like sprays and wipes.

"You could accidentally get liquid inside the headphone jack, which would ruin your audio experience inside the speakers; get liquid inside the speakers, inside the microphone, in which case nobody would be able to hear you on the phone," Hasleton warned. "Or you could get it inside of the charging port, which could fry your electronic completely."

As for those who used to use their clothes to clean their phones, they now say they may be opting for more sterile methods.

"I'm definitely going to do things differently in regard to cleaning my phone," said Peterson.

So, do you need to shell out cash for a specialized product? A simple microfiber cloth used on a phone in our test got rid of all the bacteria. But Gerba points out the key is to use always use a clean cloth.  

And, soon phones may be more germ resistant and easier to clean. Hasleton says some phones in development will have anti microbial covers and will be water resistant.

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