Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 outbreak, “Wash your hands!” has become the battle cry of 2020. For many people, their hands are the primary way they interact with objects around them, in the process coming into contact with all the viruses and bacteria that might be lurking invisibly. Washing your hands properly (20 seconds with soap and hot water) and frequently, while avoiding any touching of their faces, is one of the best ways a person can reduce their chances of catching the virus.
Frequent hand-washing won’t do you much good if you immediately start touching contaminated objects, however, and unless you were a stringent cleaner before the outbreak, chances are a lot of the gadgets you use in everyday life haven’t gotten a good decontamination in a while, if at all. Here’s why you need to wash your gadgets, and how often.
How does coronavirus spread, and how long can it survive on surfaces?
Although experts are still not entirely certain how the virus spreads, the evidence indicates that it spreads “mainly from person-to-person … Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even if nobody has sneezed on you lately, you can still come in contact with the virus by touching surfaces such as the handrails on a bus. Harvard Medical School says, “A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”
Any time you touch objects out in the wild, such as the handrails on a bus or the push-to-walk button at an intersection, you’re exposing your hands to microbes such as the coronavirus. If you were to touch your face, those microbes get an easy route to your face-based orifices.
Your gadgets are a highway for viruses
On a good, non-pandemic day, your phone is still incredibly disgusting. Recent studies have found that cell phones tend to house 10 times as much bacteria as a toilet seat. People spend hours a day on their phones, touching them frequently and in situations where their hands are already dirty. How often have you whipped out your phone on the bus or subway, having just touched a turnstile or pulled out some cash (also notoriously disgusting) for your fare? In polls, the majority of Americans admit to using their phones while in the bathroom, and while they may wash their hands afterward, chances are they aren’t washing their phones.
Consider the other gadgets you use. How much gunk has built up between the buttons of your computer mouse? How much hair and dust and crumbs of food have fallen into the crevices of your keyboard? Or into the cans of your headphones? You might touch these gadgets frequently throughout the day, oil and dead skin from your hands constantly rubbing off onto them, making them potential breeding grounds for bacteria.
Wash your phone! The CDC recommends that you clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most people aren’t following that advice. According to polling conducted by YouGov, a mere 31% of people are washing their phones daily (up from 21% in December). This suggests that people are more conscious of their gadget hygiene in the wake of the pandemic, but in general we are still falling way short.
However, in the same way that you might be washing your hands much more often now than before, consider adjusting that cleaning regimen depending on your behavior. If you check your phone a lot while in public, you might want to wipe it down, or at least the case, whenever you get a chance (my Pixel case has been getting a bath every time I can get to a sink). If it’s been a while since your last hand-washing and you’re using a mouse or keyboard, strongly consider giving them a cleaning.
Although it might be tempting to douse your gadgets in alcohol, be cautious, as alcohol can eat away at plastics. If you’re an iPhone user, at least, Apple has said that Clorox wipes are fine to use on your phone. Also, avoid paper towels when cleaning a screen; instead, use a microfiber cloth to avoid scratches. If you’ve got access to one, an ultraviolet lamp can disinfect your phone, and some charging cases come with one built in.
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