Some health experts are now asking us to clean our cell phones to stop the spread of the flu. They say most cell phones are covered with nasty germs that under certain conditions could make you sick.
Studies show our cell phones can be layered with staph bacteria, fecal bacteria, and various viruses that can transmit pinkeye infections, diarrhea, colds, and, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, even the flu.
But cleaning your cell phone comes with a list of dos and don'ts. I took an armload of cleaning supplies to KOMO 4 Engineer Trent Sheppard and he says if you're thinking about using disinfectant wipes -- be careful.
"That probably is not the best. Probably too much liquid," he said. "Sometimes when they come out they're actually soaked in liquid and you're applying that liquid directly to your phone."
Any liquid that seeps into your phone can bad for the for the electronics. Instead, experts say pick up some soft, lint-free cotton wipes at your local drug, hardware or electronics store, and moisten the cloth with disinfectant. Then, use the dampened soft cloth to carefully clean the screen and keyboard. You may not get all the bugs, but you'll get most.
You can also pump a little hand sanitizer gel onto the cloth, but not too much. Work the gel into the cloth, then wipe down your phone. Or, use a disinfectant spray -- again on a lint-free cloth -- never directly on the phone. And never use paper towels.
"The lint causes damage, it gets inside of crevices and cracks" said Sheppard.
As for how often to clean your phone, Sheppard points out he's an engineer, not a health expert. But his best guess would be at least once a week.
"I would suggest, probably once a week or so. Or if you have a sick family member, you want to do it more often, as often as you think. And if they handle the phone, then of course, every time they handle the phone."
Given the germ factor, doctors say be careful about sharing cell phones and do not use your phone while you're using the bathroom. (Think about it.)
Other don'ts for cleaning cell phones: No bleach or window cleaner on your phone. And don't clean your phone while it's still turned on, being charged or plugged in to anything.
Finally, to be on the safe side, check the manufacturer's cleaning instructions to make sure they don't have specific restrictions on what you can use to disinfect.
Below are tips from Dr. Geeta Nayyar, AT&T's Chief Medical Information Officer, to help you avoid getting the flu and other harmful germs from your phone:
1. Consider getting a flu shot. If you are sick and experiencing flu symptoms, do not share your phone and stay home to avoid infecting others. Keep your germs to yourself.
2. Avoid sick people. If you share your phone with friends or family be careful, you may be sharing more than just your phone, you may be spreading a virus!
3. Wash your hands frequently. Sing a verse from a familiar song (e.g., "Happy Birthday") while lathering and rinsing. Don't rush. If soap and water are not available to wash hands then use disinfectant like hand sanitizer.
4. Wash your phone! If you think it has been contaminated, disinfect your phone. Follow your phone manufacturer's instructions on how to clean your device properly. (Remember that washing your hands and then touching a dirty phone or keypad is self limiting).
5. Try using a Bluetooth device or other hands-free headset, minimizing your keypad-to-face exposure.
6. Don't - please don't - use your phone in a restroom. Some things can wait!