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Published: Saturday, 1/4/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

Cleaning grubby devices reduces threat of germs

NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK — Take a look at your mobile device. Do you see oily fingerprints and lint on the touch screen? Dust and crumbs forming particulate frost in the corners? Is that a hair stuck at the screen’s edge?

Because our electronics are constantly within our grubby grasp, they can get pretty gross. Repeated studies show what accumulates is germy nastiness worse than what is on the bottom of your shoe.

“That devices can be a source of disease transmission is not a subject of debate anymore,” said Dr. Dubert Guerrero, an infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D., and co-author of a study about the persistence of bacteria on iPads published in November in the American Journal of Infection Control.

So it is a good idea to keep your devices clean, not only to keep from getting sick, but also to maintain resale value when it’s time to upgrade. Companies like Best Buy, Target, Gazelle, Amazon, Verizon, and AT&T all offer trade-in or cash-back programs, said Derek Meister, a technician for the Geek Squad, Best Buy’s repair and online support service.

“People don’t want any marks or grime on their devices,” Mr. Meister said, because, like trading in a used car at a dealership, “the better the condition, the more like new it is, the more money you get on your trade-in.”

A word of warning: Cleaning your device can be tricky, because you don’t want to damage it and manufacturers don’t give you much guidance. It can be done, however, if you’re careful and conscientious.

Dr. Guerrero and his colleagues found that regularly wiping down your device with a moist microfiber cloth was sufficient to eliminate many kinds of common bacteria. More enduring and dangerous bacteria like clostridium difficile (which can cause diarrhea or colon inflammation) and flu viruses may require a bleach or alcohol, he said.

This is a problem, because Apple on its Web site officially warns against using “window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia or abrasives” to clean its products and advises instead to “simply wipe the screen with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove oil left by your hands.”

And yet, in the Apple Store, you’ll find the 32-percent isopropyl alcohol Clens wipes by Bausch & Lomb. Apple declined to explain the contradiction. A Clens kit that includes three Clens wipes, a 3-ounce bottle of Clens cleaning spray, and a cleaning cloth costs about $20.

But it’s far cheaper to make your own solution. To clean his own mobile devices, Mr. Meister at the Geek Squad used a 1-to-1 ratio of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and distilled water, which costs less than $4 at most grocery and drugstores.

Fill a spray bottle with the diluted alcohol, lightly moisten a lint-free, preferably microfiber, cloth (no paper towels) and gently wipe down the screen and case. Never spray directly onto the device. To clean corners and around ports, use lint-free foam rather than cotton Q-tips.

If you’re supergermaphobic, consider purchasing an ultraviolet sanitizer. Violife makes a $50 cell phone sanitizer about the size of a coffee can. Verilux sells a $40 sanitizing wand, which the company claims kills up to 99 percent of germs when waved over your electronics.

Using a can of compressed air to blow around ports and between keys, on the other hand, will help maintain the look, performance and value of your device. Another option is a specialized air compressor like the DataVac Electric Duster ($100), which comes with all sorts of little attachments for cleaning devices’ crevices and seams.

To repel germs, grease, and pet hair from your laptop, there are anti-microbial and protective keyboard, trackpad, and palm rest covers that are nearly invisible and washable. Moshi, NewerTech, iSkin, and Protect Computer Products all make these covers for less than $30.



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