With worldwide COVID-19 cases now exceeding 1.4 million (with over 80,000 deaths), most countries have taken extreme measures to slow the spread. With lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions in place throughout the globe, it can be easy to forget about what we can personally do to keep our homes or workplaces free of the coronavirus. And the simplest thing we all can accomplish is to regularly and efficiently clean and disinfect surfaces and equipment.
In this article, we’re going to provide some simple tips and tricks for keeping your keyboard, mouse, laptop, smartphone and other equipment squeaky clean and COVID-free. In truth, the recommendations in this article are good practice at the best of times but there’s nothing like a pandemic to truly emphasize their importance.
Much Like a Bad Smell, COVID-19 Likes to Linger
While it’s no surprise to anyone that viruses are microscopic and thus invisible to the naked eye, a recent US study found that COVID-19 can lurk in the background for anything from a few hours to several days.
Carried out by researchers from University of California Los Angeles, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Princeton University, the new study (published in the New England Journal of Medicine) attempted to replicate the virus being deposited by an infected person through coughing or touching objects made of plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard, as well as in aerosols.
While the easiest way to contract COVID-19 is through airborne droplets spread by the coughing of an infected person, you can also acquire the virus through touching a microbe-infested surface and then touching your face. According to the study, the virus could be detected in aerosols for up to three hours after it had been deposited, and for up to four hours on copper and up to 24 hours on cardboard. On plastic and stainless steel, the virus was still detectable up to three days later. While this is bad enough by itself, if COVID-19 (also called SARS-CoV-2) is anything like SARS-CoV-1, all of these figures could be even worse.
The Difference Between Cleaning and Disinfecting
Before getting into the nitty gritty of how to keep your devices free of COVID-19, it’s worth mentioning the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. While cleaning is the removal of visible foreign mater from a surface, disinfecting is the actual killing of the bacteria and viruses on a surface. It is possible to be clean but not disinfected, and similarly disinfected but not clean. Thankfully, the steps in this article will help you to do both.
Clean and Disinfect Daily to Keep Your Smartphone Virus-Free
Most of us never think to clean our cell phones despite what we do with them. But what if you heard that cell phones carried ten times more bacteria than most toilet seats? That’s enough to want to wipe down your device irrespective of COVID-19 risk!
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that most smartphone screens are covered with an oleophobic (oil-repelling) coating. This coating naturally wears away over time but this process will be accelerated by cleaning with regular household cleaners like Clorox or Lysol. With that in mind, here are a few simple steps for cleaning and disinfecting your smartphone:
- Take your phone out of its case. If it’s made of safe-to-wash materials like TPU/silicone and hard plastic, give the case a good rinse in warm water and let it air dry. You can also use 70% rubbing alcohol or a wide-spectrum cleaning spray to disinfect it thoroughly. Remember to never apply any cleaning agent directly to your phone or case. Apply to a microfiber cloth and then wipe the device.
- Whittle the tips to points on a few Q-Tips. Gently swab around the earpiece, speaker grills and various ports on your phone. When swabbing the USB-C port, be careful not to leave any fibers behind or dislodge any pieces inside the port.
- To wipe down the screen or body of the phone, we recommend using mobile screen wipes. These wipes don’t have the harsh chemicals of a Lysol or Clorox wipe but their evaporative pre-moistened solution should still be enough to remove the top layer of grime and germs from your phone. Be sure to only use a wipe once. In the absence of such wipes, lightly dampen a microfiber cloth with a 1:1 mix of water and 70% rubbing alcohol and wipe in a circular motion.
- If any streaks remain after using the mobile wipe, use a microfiber cloth to wipe the screen clear of streaks.
- Once the phone and case are both completely dry, re-apply your case to your phone.
Thought Your Smartphone Was Bad? Time to Clean That Keyboard and Mouse
Remember when we said that cell phones carried ten times more bacteria than most toilet seats? The University of Arizona scientists who carried out that research also found that keyboards can have 400 times the bacteria of a toilet seat. That’s right – 400 times more! Here’s how to get that number down:
- Disconnect your keyboard from your computer. For laptops, turn it off and unplug the charging cable.
- Turn the keyboard upside down and shake to loosen anything stuck between or under the keys.
- Next, use compressed air to remove crumbs, dust or other choice chunks from the keyboard.
- Once you have everything removed from around the keys, take a microfiber cloth and dampen with 70% rubbing alcohol. Lightly rub the cloth over the keys (and any palm rest you might use). You can also use disinfectant wipes but make sure that they’re not overly damp and that they don’t contain bleach. You can also use this step on laptop touch pads.
While we don’t have any unsettling statistics on how filthy your mouse is, it’s fair to assume that it needs a good cleansing:
- Disconnect your mouse from your computer.
- If you notice loose debris trapped under the scroll wheel, turn the mouse upside down and roll the scroll wheel to loosen anything stuck inside.
- Once you have everything removed from under the wheel, take a microfiber cloth and dampen with 70% rubbing alcohol. Lightly rub the cloth over the mouse and take care to avoid getting moisture into the openings. You can also use disinfectant wipes but make sure that they’re not overly damp and that they don’t contain bleach.
How to Clean Your Laptop or Monitor Screen
While nowhere near as grubby as your phone, keyboard or mouse, it’s also worth wiping down your laptop or monitor screen weekly:
- Shut down your laptop or computer. A dark screen will make it easier to see any grime or smudges.
- Lightly dampen a microfiber cloth with a 1:1 mix of water and 70% rubbing alcohol and gently rub across the width of the screen. You can also use specialized screen cleaner if convenient.
- For more regular removal of dust or other obvious dirt, just use a dry microfiber cloth.
How to Clean and Disinfect Other Devices Such as Radios
For cleaning and disinfecting other devices like the CentrAlert Advisor Alert Radio, follow these steps:
- For general cleaning, apply 0.5% detergent-water solution with a cloth. Then, use a stiff, non-metallic, short-bristled brush to work all loose dirt away from the device. Use a microfiber cloth to remove the solution and dry the device.
- Make sure that no solution remains entrapped near any connectors, cracks or crevices.
- To disinfect the device, lightly dampen a microfiber cloth with a 1:1 mix of water and 70% rubbing alcohol and gently wipe down the device.
Remember: Clean Your Devices Regularly
It’s all well and good to get into the habit of cleaning regularly due to COVID-19. However, these aren’t mere spring cleaning tips to get you through the next couple of months. Proper cleaning and disinfecting is beneficial to health at all times and can even prolong the life of certain equipment. Because at the end of the day, wouldn’t you like your toilet seat to have more bacteria than your phone?