AfterDawn: Tech news

There's filth on your phone - it's not porn

Written by James Delahunty (Google+) @ 23 Oct 2012 9:16 User comments (4)

There's filth on your phone - it's not porn Your smartphone may be filthier than your bathroom.
We've all had the delightful experience of a greasy touch-screen smartphone by now, but what lives on that greasy surface is a cause for concern for some health professionals. Your smartphone is warm most of the time in your pocket (and from its own internal operating temperature), and you handle it many times per day with your bare hands - as some of your friends or family might also - and then you raise it to your face to speak into it.

This combination is a perfect scenario for some really filthy microbiology to breathe and migrate into your body. That's the message coming from the American Academy of Family Physicians, whose President Jeffrey Cain warns goes completely unnoticed to most smartphone users.

Bacteria on a phone can easily cause conditions such as Pinkeye or Diarrhea, and viruses such as influenza can be transferred from the hands, or from proximity to a sneeze or cough, to a handset's surface.

Of course, the same thing is true for keyboard, a mouse or a landline phone, but the difference with a handset is you carry it around with you all the time, you use it constantly, and you touch it to your face. The Wall Street Journal decided to test some handsets for any nasty passengers while reporting on this issue.

Eight handsets, selected randomly from an office in Chicago, showed no signs of potentially deadly bacteria such as E.coli or staphylococci bacteria, but there was no shortage of coliforms present. Unfortunately, this indicates faecal contamination. The tests, carried out at HML Labs of Muncie, Ind., found between 2,700 and 4,200 units of coliform bacteria. In water deemed safe to drink, the level of coliform bacteria is less than 1 unit per 100 ml of water.

"The results are pretty bad," said Dr. Donald Hendrickson, president of HML Labs and professor emeritus of medical microbiology at Ball State University.

While you might practice good hygiene and wash your hands after every bathroom break, you can still pick up such bacteria from shaking the hands of another person who doesn't, or using a mouse or keyboard that they used, or of course if they handle your phone. In fact it's pretty much a given that you come into contact with such bacteria every single day.

Touch screen phones make it even worse since you move your thumb across the screen, allowing for bugs to transfer onto the handset surface.

You can always clean the surface of your phone regularly, as many people already do to get rid of the greasy residue, but what is safe and also effective at getting rid of nasty little bugs? The answer is more complicated that it should be. Different manufacturers use different materials and therefore there is no real optimal solution.

Alcohol based wipes have been found to be very good at wiping away the bacteria, but alcohol is not safe for use on all smartphone surfaces. Customer manuals for Apple gadgets for example, deter against the use of "window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia or abrasives," since you might cause damage to the screen. Water-based wipes (or just using water) has been found to be much less effective than alcohol.

A potentially good solution for sanitizing your phone without breaking out the eye-watering chemicals is a UV disinfectant wand, which uses UV light that kills bacteria without touching the device. You could then use a less intensive wipe to get the grease off the screen and bring back the shine.

Of course, your handset is very unlikely to make you sick, unless you are in the habit of passing it around and then licking the screen clean, but remember that toddlers, for example, often show a fascination for mobile phones, and also have an annoying tendency to bite them.

Previous Next  

4 user comments

123.10.2012 9:58

Germaphobes release!!!

223.10.2012 12:56

A million years ago (when I worked for a telephone company) - we were trained how to identify various types of calls:

"There's a bomb in the building" - was a threatening call.

"There's a f*****g bomb in the building" - was an obscene call.

323.10.2012 15:19

Just another reason to use bluetooth...a nice big one with a boom that has a foam cover about 1mm from the lips; I'm sure there is nothing yukky in there.

425.10.2012 13:26

Oh yeah, a bluetooth headset is a great idea to reduce germs and bacteria by using a wireless head piece that goes stuck in people's ear canal and in which they have to touch the ear wax every time it is put it on or taken it off. And then of coarse they go on to shake your hand, use the same pens as you, serve you food etc. Bluetooth headset are the most disgusting phone accessory. I can't believe so many people use them.

Comments have been disabled for this article.

News archive