A man's hand holding an Apple Watch
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Every time you touch your Apple Watch, you could be contaminating it with bacteria and other harmful microbes. It’s worth taking the time to clean your Apple Watch regularly to protect yourself from getting sick. Here’s how you can do that safely.

Things You’ll Need

Cleaning your Apple Watch isn’t dissimilar to cleaning your iPhone or sanitizing other “high-touch” gadgets. In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak of early 2020, Apple updated its cleaning guidelines to encourage the use of isopropyl alcohol to kill bacteria, viruses, and other harmful microbes.

To properly clean your Apple Watch you will need:

  • A soft, damp, lint-free cloth
  • Isopropyl alcohol with at least 70% alcohol content and a clean cloth, or similar disinfecting wipes
  • Cotton buds (Q-Tips)
  • A sink with access to warm running water
  • A soft-bristled toothbrush (optional)
  • A wooden toothpick (optional)

Depending on how dirty your watch is, you might need to use a toothpick or soft toothbrush to loosen stuck-on dirt and grime.

RELATED: How to Disinfect Your Smartphone

Remove The Band and Clean It Separately

You can remove your Apple Watch band for easy cleaning. First, take your watch off and turn it around so that the back is facing you. At the top and bottom of the rear sensor are two depressible buttons.

Press one of the buttons down and slide the corresponding watch band connector left or right. You might need to put a little force into it if you haven’t removed the band in a while. Keep pushing until the band is free from the main unit, then repeat for the other end of the band.

Remove the Apple Watch Band Using the Buttons on the Rear of the Watch

Now you should have your band and Apple Watch unit in two or three separate parts. How you clean your band ultimately depends on which band you are using. Leather bands are especially sensitive, and Apple states they are not water-resistant.

How to Clean Fabric, Silicon and Metal Watch Bands

Fabric, silicon, and metal watch bands can be submerged in water for cleaning. For best results, hold them underneath warm running water, taking care to clean the entirety of the band. You should be able to remove any dirt or lint with your fingers.

You can use a wooden toothpick or soft-bristled toothbrush to remove any stubborn grime or dried-on dirt from metal bands. Take care when brushing nylon sports loops, as you may fray the material by doing so.

Rinse Apple Watch Band Underneath Warm Running Water to Clean

Attention: Apple warns against using alcohol to clean fabric bands, but water alone is not enough to disinfect these. Because nylon bands like the sports loop should only be soluble in strong acids, disinfecting your nylon band with alcohol is likely safe, despite what Apple says. This is a risk you’ll have to weigh up and decide for yourself. If you’re concerned, perform a test on a small area first.

Let your watch band dry completely, then disinfect it using isopropyl alcohol. If you have a pump-spray bottle, you can mist alcohol directly onto the Watch band. Otherwise, you can apply isopropyl alcohol to a clean cloth (or use alcohol-based disinfectant wipes), then wipe the band down thoroughly.

Isopropyl alcohol will evaporate quickly, which means there’s no need to rinse it when you’re done. The alcohol will kill bacteria that may cause your Watch band to smell and other microbes that could make you sick. Always clean your band with water before disinfecting to remove dirt that microbes love.

How to Clean Leather Bands

Leather bands are far more temperamental and shouldn’t be soaked completely in water for cleaning. Apple recommends spot cleaning your leather band with a clean damp cloth, then letting it dry completely.

Of course, water alone won’t disinfect the band. For that, you’ll need to use trusty isopropyl alcohol, which may ruin the finish on your watch band. Limited evidence online suggests that isopropyl alcohol may dry out the leather, while other people say isopropyl alcohol is great for getting stains out relatively safely.

Again, your mileage may vary. If you are uncomfortable not disinfecting your leather Watch band, you could always buy a hardier silicon, fabric, or metal band to replace it.

Cleaning Your Apple Watch Unit

With your band removed, cleaning your Apple Watch should be easy. Take a clean cloth and dampen it with water, then wipe the Watch unit all over. Take care to remove all grime and stuck-on dirt, particularly on the back of the unit.

Wipe Apple Watch with a Damp Cloth to Remove Dirt

Pay close attention to the lip where the heart rate sensor meets the rest of the body; skin and dirt can build up there relatively easily. Take your wooden toothpick or a soft-bristled toothbrush and scrape as much grime out as possible, until the watch looks completely clean.

Take your watch and hold it under warm running water for a minute or so. Turn the digital crown and wash out anything that may have stuck to it. Rinse the seating where the Watch band normally sits. Turn off the tap and dry the watch thoroughly.

Rinse Apple Watch Underneath Warm Running Water

Now, disinfect with isopropyl alcohol by either misting the watch with alcohol, applying alcohol to a cloth and wiping the watch down thoroughly or using disinfectant wipes. If there are any last bits of stuck-on grime, the alcohol should help lift them. Use the cotton buds dipped in alcohol to remove any last stubborn bits of dirt.

Pay close attention to the display, digital crown, and side button, as these are the main areas you use to interact with your watch. Wait for the alcohol to evaporate completely before moving on to the next step.

Reassemble Your Watch

Now it’s time to reassemble the Watch by putting the band back on. Line the band up with your wrist first, to make sure that everything is the right way round.

Reassemble Apple Watch by Reseating the Band

It’s then a matter of sliding the band mounts into the seating until you hear an audible click. If you don’t hear the click, wiggle the Watch around a bit until you do. Perform one last test to make sure your bands are safely in place by moving them horizontally.

If you don’t put the bands on properly, you could risk losing your watch if the band were to slip off.

Everyday Cleaning Tips

Keeping your Watch clean is pretty easy if you wear it in the shower. You should always try to avoid getting soap and other personal hygiene products on your watch, but holding it under a warm tap and wiping it isn’t going to harm it.

Cleaning the underside will require that you take it off and give it a more thorough cleaning. Get into the habit of doing this at night when you charge it, and consider keeping some disinfectant wipes on your nightstand to clean your Watch, iPhone, AirPods and other gadgets.

RELATED: How to Clean and Disinfect All Your Gadgets

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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