How-To Geek

How to Clean Your Dirty Smartphone (Without Breaking Something)

We have already shown you how to clean your keyboard without breaking it, but did you know your smartphone can be just as dirty and covered with bacteria? Here is how to properly clean your smartphone.

Cell Phones have been repeatedly found to be one of the most disgusting things we regularly touch. In many tests, cell phones have tested to contain more germs than a toilet seat. Can you hear me now? You don’t want to put your head on a toilet seat. If you are going to reach out and touch someone your phone, make sure you rethink possibilities and clean your smartphone the right way.

How many germs live on your cell phone?

Created by Oatmeal

Tools You’ll need

To get started you will need to collect a few supplies:

  • Lint free microfiber cloth – You should be able to pick up a microfiber cloth from an eyeglass store or pharmacy if you don’t have one. Many computers and mobile devices come with one for free, so make sure you check your box before throwing it out.
  • Cotton swabs – We recommend either wood shafted cotton swabs or Q-tips branded cotton swabs because the shafts won’t be as flimsy as the cheap off brands.
  • Distilled water – This is for cleaning your screen and camera lens. We recommend you get distilled water because it won’t have the chemicals of tap water and won’t leave a film if it drys.
  • Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol – This is for cleaning your keypad and hard plastic.

Household chemicals and disinfectants are too harsh for most smartphones. Make sure you don’t use window cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, ammonia, ajax, CLR, or abrasives. These cleaners are guaranteed to stain your phone or remove the finish.

Cleaning Your Phone

Start by turning off your phone by holding the power button or finding an option in the phone to turn off or swap the battery.

You should also remove any case or cover on your phone if you use one.

If you have the ability, remove your battery from the phone prior to cleaning.

Be careful when removing a screen protector because the peeling action can cause cracks to spread. If you have major screen cracks it is recommended you leave the screen protector on because it will help keep moisture out of the phone and hold the screen together until you can buy a replacement.

If you have a keyboard or keypad start cleaning it with a cotton swab dipped in diluted rubbing alcohol. Be careful not to rub too hard and not to get any rubbing alcohol inside the phone or under the keyboard.

Next move to the rest of the phone plastics. For large areas like the battery cover it is fine to use rubbing alcohol. Use light pressure when cleaning plastic so you don’t remove any rubber coating or clear finish.

If you have metal trim on your phone, use a water dampened cotton swab instead of rubbing alcohol.

Once the outside is clean, use a dry cotton swab to clean out any dust under the battery cover. If you have any stubborn areas under the battery cover, use a very small amount of distilled water to clean it. Immediately dry any parts you clean with water so nothing gets inside the phone.

Dampen a cotton swab with water and clean your camera lens and flash using a spinning motion. Once the lens is clean quickly dry it with the other side of the cotton swab so that water doesn’t dry on the lens.

Now that the major portions of the phone have been cleaned, flip the screen over and dampen your lint free microfiber cloth. You don’t want the cloth dripping wet; the dampness will help remove crusted on streaks.

Clean the screen in single strokes from the ear piece down to the microphone. This motion will keep from spreading dirt into your ear piece. Don’t use circular motions because this can cause circular scratches.

Be very careful if you have a cracked screen because removing a screen protector or wiping the screen with pressure can cause the crack to spread. You may also want to forgo the damp cloth and just use a dry one to prevent any moisture from getting under the screen.

Some low end and older phones have plastic screens which can easily scratch. Make sure you use light pressure when cleaning your screen to stop scratches from forming. Most new Android phones and iPhones have hardened glass screens which won’t scratch as easily.

If you removed your screen protector, follow the directions that came with the protector to apply a new one after cleaning.

If you have an iPhone 4, remember that the front and back are made of glass so clean both sides the same way.

The iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad, Google Nexus S, and quite a few other phones have an oleophobic (literally meaning “fear of oil”) coating which repels oil from your hands and face. This coating will wear over time so make sure you don’t rub too hard or use rubbing alcohol or you might speed up the wear process.

Give the phone a few minutes to dry, then re-assemble and turn it back on. You should now have a clean phone without those nasty germs.

Clean Your Case

If you use a plastic phone cover/case use diluted rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs to clean the inside and outside.

Let the case air dry before putting it back on the phone.

If you use a leather case or pouch you can use leather cleaner designed to clean and moisturize leather. The cleaner can be purchased at many automotive, online, and discount stores. You will want to follow the specific directions on the leather cleaner to make sure your leather is clean and conditioned.

Justin Garrison is a Linux and HTPC enthusiast who loves to try new projects. He isn't scared of bricking a cell phone in the name of freedom.

  • Published 06/27/11

Comments (35)

  1. tecn0tarded

    i bet this is the same person that owns the nasty keyboard. no normal sane person could let things get that filthy.

  2. Марфа

    I need to know how to get my phone that dirty

  3. Hatryst

    @techn0tarded: No, its not :D

  4. Bart

    hopefully the next article will have a “how to” for cleaning your phone in the dishwasher!!

  5. TheTolsonator

    Woot for some Palm action in an article. Cleaning the Pre has been a weekly ritual for me, I like to keep a very neat and clean phone, and pocket lint runs rampant in the speaker and camera areas, not forgetting the keyboard…cripes!

  6. Greco

    Oh my…Is that phone after intensive stress test in the sand and mud ? Woooow….Send my obituary to that sad phone.

  7. Carter

    Any sudgestions on getting the filth out of my iphones 30pin dock connector?

  8. raysur52

    Best way to clean the phone…leave it in ya jeans, put them in the washing M/c. After its done you find the phone. After you have had the hissy fit and swearing which no doubt you will have after finding out what you’ve done, leave it to dry out for 6 weeks you will have a clean phone………it may not work, but hey you’ve achieved the aim… WARNING dont try this at home.

  9. John

    I have a friend who cleans his iPhone with Windex wipes. It seems to work pretty well. I stick to the microfiber cloth myself.

  10. Robin Stubbs

    I have a cell phone since the time when they looked like a brick. And every phone from that point to now, has never, ever gotten that dirty. The worst that ever happened was I got caught in a very heavy down pour of rain, that not only soaked me and my wife to the skin, but the at that time nokia 6150, we recovered the phone not so much. I now have an iphone4 which I use a screen protector, and a rubberized case. Not only dose this combination protect the iphone4 from physical harm but also seams to keep it relatively clean. A micro fiber cloth, is used to clean the screen(protector), and all is well. I don’t see the need to preform open heart surgery on a phone to clean it. As for the 30 pin conector cleaning, as the plug is a “wipe” to connect, and a “wipe” to disconnect, just plug and unplug a powered down iPhone several times and that should clear up the contacts, (that is unless you have dipped your phone in a bucket of paint, at which time I would suggest replacing the device).

  11. Ivydapple

    Poor iPhone. :( I feel bad for it, getting so dirty in the first place.

  12. Speedy

    Any sudgestions on getting the filth out of my iphones 30pin dock connector?…@I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a 46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get all this stuff,

  13. christl

    Unless you own or have access to a microscope you will never know how filthy your phone is.

  14. e1sunz

    I wonder how he one that to his iphone in the 1st place…ewww gross

  15. jon_hill987

    I bought a pot of this stuff when I was at The Gadget Show Live:

    The chap on the stand was cleaning peoples phones with it and it does a good job getting junk out of the ports. Works well on my phone but I never let it get as discussing as in those pictures.

  16. zarnaik

    That iPhone is gross.

  17. jimofoz

    I used to worry about germs from my cell, but for that last couple of months, I boil it once a week. No more germs. It’s funny, though, that for the last couple of months, my phone never seems to ring. I guess my friends lost the number.

  18. Kevalin

    Oh yuck! Speedy just spammed the Geek.

    Does anyone actually go to the sites these trolls push, or are their spam contributions just another way to ruin perfectly good (or in the case of Yahoo, already awful) websites by posting a bunch of dishonest BS?

    And more to the point, will HTW now be blocking any comments that include the names of these places that these creeps mention, so we never have to deal with them again?

  19. Kevalin

    Oops– I meant “HTG”. I love Swype.

  20. SDreamer

    I clean my phone daily with a microfiber cloth and spritzes of isopropyl alcohol directly to the phone. I’ve been doing this with a lot of other electronics for ages, including laptops and pmps. Nothing has been damaged from not using a diluted solution.

  21. Tcook

    I hate to pull out the “B” card, but enough already! When did everyone forget how to spell or use correct grammar? Come on people! Of course you need such specific directions on how to clean your smartphone (i.e. your brain)! You sure as hell sound like idiotic children stuck in fifth grade! I also just must draw attention to the multiple comments referring to “that poor and dirty iPhone”. Are you blind

  22. Tcook

    I thought I’d test everyone to see if anyone could figure out the correct way to end that sentence. Let me give you a clue…??????! Can anyone explain to me how it is even possible to misspell words anyhow! Does somebody need some help using spellcheck? Geez! One last question to ask. Whatever happened to Geeks being smart?

  23. Kate

    It was good to see a well-loved Palm Pre being used for this.

  24. Bruce Frazier

    one spray bottle,one bottle of 91 percent rubbing alcohol,put it in the sprayer,spray dont squrit,the phone,turn on the vacc.suck the crud off.

  25. DUW1G1T

    And next how to clean your moniter in your washing machine!

  26. Johnno

    The proper way to clean your phone:
    If it ever got that grotty, remove owner from the gene pool.
    I would have brought a new one….No point taking chances on getting an exotic disease which would need all the deviousness of Dr House, and the side effects of old technology.

  27. Schmidty

    Be careful not to get the water detection sticker when when using distilled water or alcohol to clean your phone, unless you don’t plan on needing to call on the terms of your warranty.

  28. klondike

    That phone looks like it’s toast, who is the slob who wreaked havoc on that poor thing?

  29. Silversuperman

    I love that your using a Palm Pre! Love that OS! :-D +3 internet points for you HTG.

  30. thehouse

    using cotton buds in cleaning a glossy surface of your phone will cause scratches. use a microfiber cloth instead.

  31. goodtime212

    I have never seen so many stupid comments from illiterate people in one place. Do these people never wash themselves even ? Are their eyes so dirty they cannot see the state of their phone and the dirt thereon ? Do these people rest their head on the toilet seat when they are NOT drunk and throwing up, hopefully, through the centre of the said seat ? I rest my case.
    PS. I will not be checking out the spam sites that some ‘sellers?’ may be pointing us to !!

  32. Aaron

    If my phone was that (visibly) dirty I would bag it up and dispose of it safely (bury in the back yard).

  33. Samanthy

    Personnaly, I would just like to thank the person who took the time out of his day to write, take pictures, as well as explain each step to do this. The tips come in handy fro all of us, if you didn’t need them then i honestly don’t see what drove you all to cllick on the link when this is where you would clearly end up. Also, just know the rubber case in which the smartphone is sitting in is notorious for attracting dirt, and dust, as well as keeping in place especially around the opening for the button. I am currently having to reside in Iraq, and that was an issue for me until i switched casings because of all the dirt and dust in the air.

  34. Samanthy

    Correction>> Personally; For

  35. spaul40

    This message for TCook. You wrote the following sentence: I also just must draw attention to the multiple comments referring to “that poor and dirty iPhone”.

    Since you criticized somone for mis-spelling, I will take this opportunity to correct the above sentence.
    It should have read: I also must draw attention to the multiple comments referring to, “. . . that poor and dirty iPhone.” (Reference Chicago Manual of Style – 15th edition.)

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