The tiny organisms that coat our favourite tech device are a threat to a particularly vulnerable group of Australians.
Smartphones are indeed smeared with all kinds of microbes – most of them good, some dangerous.
To combat this, smartphone screen maker Corning recently debuted an antibacterial screen for its Chinese phone, the ZTE Axon.
The company embedded tiny particles of silver, a known microbe killer, into the screen.
While no such phone exists on the Australian market, this is no great loss for the majority of users.
Smartphone microbes pose little risk to most people because the human immune system is so powerful and we’re covered in microbes anyway, an expert told The New Daily.
But when the body’s natural defence mechanism is compromised, phones can become dangerous, Curtin University molecular microbiologist Dr Joshua Ramsay said.
“For people with poor immune systems, smartphones could be important carriers of pathogenic diseases.”
Those at risk includes anyone with immature or compromised immunity, such as infants, the elderly, the chronically ill or those taking immunosuppressive drugs.
“In light of this, being aware that smartphones are major carriers of bacteria and implementing appropriate controls to prevent spread via these carriers is critical for disease outbreak management,” Dr Ramsay said.
Look beyond your phone for protection
The key to keeping your phone clean may have nothing to do with the phone at all.
This is because our devices “quickly become repopulated” with microbes as soon as we start using them, Dr Ramsay said.
“If you want to keep things clean, it is probably more effective to wash your hands often.”
Phone users should also be careful of what they touch before they text, make a call or surf the web.
“Be conscious of what potentially contaminated surfaces you have touched or are going to touch before you go using your device,” Dr Ramsay said.
“We should pay attention to not handling these devices during food preparation, as it will defeat the purpose of washing your hands.”
How to safely scrub your screen
While we are never going to win the war against bacteria, the spread of viruses might be a potentially important reason to clean our smartphones.
A quick scrub could prevent your flu to someone else.
Anti-bacterial alcohol wipes are one of the best options, said cleaning expert Bevan Nel, managing director of home cleaning service Helpling.
Another option is to use distilled water, boiling water or cleaning alcohol — or even regular drinking alcohol like vodka.
“Just gently dab one of those two onto a microfiber cloth and gently wipe the front of the screen of your iPhone,” Mr Nel said.
But be careful of causing damage to your phone.
“Whatever liquid you use, use sparingly,” he said. “You don’t want to douse it.”
If you do use too much, Mr Nel has a cleaner’s trick to potentially salvage your device.
“If there are any accidental spillages, you can always put it into a container of dry rice. That tends to help absorb any excess liquid.”