Worried woman with protective mask looking at smart phone reading news on a coffee shop terrace Source: iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Disinfecting your smartphone – the issue of cross-contamination

29. March 2020 Published by Raphael Doerr

The current coronavirus pandemic has made the general public highly aware of the need for greater hygiene to protect against infection. We wash our hands more, keep a distance from each other, and look out for potential risks in public spaces. All that is the right thing to do. But there is one subject that is hardly discussed: cross-contamination. We illustrate what it means with reference to the smartphone…

What is cross-contamination?

“Cross-contamination generally denotes the direct or indirect unintentional transfer of impurities to an object. Typical examples are the transmission of pathogenic micro-organisms from one food to another […].”

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is viruses that are transferred unintentionally – and that has great implications for how we handle frequently-used everyday objects.

Aerosol and smear infection

In the case of aerosol infection, coronaviruses escape the oral cavity in the form of droplets and are transmitted when, for example, an infected person sneezes or coughs on someone else. Smear infection denotes a situation where an infected person coughs into their hand and then touches a door handle, which another person touches, after which their hand comes into contact with the mucous membranes in their nose, eyes and mouth.

And that is where frequently used objects – in particular the smartphone – come in. They are the most important technical gadget for many people and are constantly in use – and hence always in their hands. And if hands are the number one means by which coronavirus is transmitted and the pandemic is spread, then one thing is obvious: That automatically makes the smartphone a potential risk.

Water and wipes are not enough!

You usually have to take special care with smartphones. Displays and cases should not normally be cleaned using disinfectant. The prestigious magazine connect has published a separate article on the subject, which reads: “The smartphone’s sensitive touch display should never be cleaned using aggressive agents. That also includes glass cleaner. In general, all agents containing alcohol or soap must be avoided so that the material’s oil-repellent property is not destroyed. There are special screen cleaners you can use instead.”

The only problem is: At the moment the disinfectants for smartphones and screens, some of which have an antiviral effect, are completely sold out. And water alone is not enough to reduce the viral load lurking on a smartphone. And please don’t let the idea of cleaning it with household or spectacle wipes cross your mind. They will only produce a visual result, but do not clean the phone effectively.

Why we should take cross-contamination seriously

Let’s assume the following situation. Ms. K. has to go shopping in the supermarket. She’s worried about being infected and is therefore wearing disposable gloves and an FFP2 face mask. So she’s well equipped for starters. She has a bit to travel and so takes the bus (just two stops). She presses the button to open the bus door and holds on to the handrail inside. No problem – after all, she’s got gloves on.

However, she takes the smartphone out of her pocket in the meantime – a natural reflex – and makes a few clicks and wipes on it. She arrives at the supermarket and does her shopping. She keeps on reaching for her smartphone, since that’s where her shopping list is stored.

Then it’s back off home, where she disposes of the mask and gloves in the bin in front of the door and then washes her hands thoroughly with soap.

You’ve probably guessed what happens next. She takes the smartphone out of her pocket and there we have it: a case of the cross-contamination we’ve been talking about and whether she’s come into contact with coronavirus while out and about.

Disinfection is possible!

In view of the risks at present, it’s therefore very advisable to disinfect your smartphone regularly and especially stop yourself using it unconsciously in public spaces.

“You should avoid reaching for the smartphone just as you would avoid touching your face,” says Andreas Merker, VP Smartphones at Gigaset. “At least when you’re not at home. Apart from that, you should definitely disinfect your smartphone – even with the aggressive cleaning agents you shouldn’t otherwise use.”

In fact, a report in the Wall Street Journal shows that you can indeed use agents that are otherwise not recommended for a certain time in order to clean and disinfect smartphones. The video below shows you how. And, of course, that trick also works on our Gigaset smartphones. By the way, here’s a small tip: Use an additional screen protector to prevent damage to the original screen.

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