Did you know there’s a special “oleophobic coating” on your phone’s screen to help keep fingerprints and smudges away? It’s more important than you might think. Can obsessively cleaning the display remove the coating? Let’s talk about that.
What Is Oleophobic Coating?
What is this coating that you may or may not be removing, anyway? “Oleophobic” literally means “oil fear,” which is a pretty good description of what an oleophobic coating does.
The oleophobic coating on your phone is there to repel the oils on your fingers. It makes fingerprints and smudges easier to wipe off and can prevent oils from transferring to the display entirely.
Without the coating, your screen would get super greasy very quickly and it wouldn’t feel as nice to swipe and scroll. In fact, that’s usually a good indicator that the oleophobic coating is wearing off. When it gets more difficult to keep the screen clean and you feel more traction when sliding your finger.
In short, the oleophobic coating is simply a polymer coating on the display that repels oils from your fingers. It’s something you may not notice is there, but you would very much notice if it wasn’t.
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Can Alcohol Remove the Oleophobic Coating?
There’s a lot of contradicting information out there about the safest way to clean phone displays. You may have heard that wipes and cleaning agents that contain alcohol can remove the oleophobic coating. Is that true?
All iPhone displays have oleophobic coatings. Here is Apple’s official advice for cleaning an iPhone display:
Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe, 75 percent ethyl alcohol wipe, or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the exterior surfaces of your iPhone. Don’t use products containing bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Avoid getting moisture in any openings, and don’t submerge your iPhone in any cleaning agents.
Samsung’s recommendation for Galaxy devices is similar:
You can also use a disinfectant, such as a hypochlorous acid-based solution (containing 50-80ppm) or an alcohol-based solution (containing more than 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol). Do not apply these liquid solutions directly to your device; they should be carefully applied to a microfiber cloth instead.
Both companies recommend using a 70% isopropyl alcohol cleaning solution. This is different than a lot of the information you’ll find online, which says anything over 50% alcohol will damage the coating. So are Apple and Samsung intentionally leading people to ruin displays or is the information online false?
The alcohol percentage is just one thing to consider. You also need to pay attention to how often you’re using these cleaners. It’s the repeated use that affects the coating the most. Even cleaners with low alcohol percentages will break down the oleophobic coating over time
What constitutes “often”? For starters, you probably shouldn’t be wiping your phone with alcohol multiple times a day or even daily. Plain ‘ol soap also works just fine and isn’t as abrasive. Reserve the alcohol wipes for the occasional deep clean.
Can I Restore the Oleophobic Coating?
Cleaning your display obsessively can cause the oleophobic coating to deteriorate faster, but it will slowly wear off over time just with regular use, too. Thankfully, it is possible to reapply an oleophobic coating, though it won’t be quite as good as the factory coating.
The easiest method is to buy a glass screen protector. These usually come with an oleophobic coating pre-applied and they’re easy to install. When the coating wears off again, simply apply a new screen protector.
If screen protectors aren’t your thing, you can go the DIY route and apply an aftermarket oleophobic coating. You can get a kit that includes the coating in liquid form and an application cloth. Typically, you’ll put the liquid on the display, spread it evenly, let it dry, and apply another coat. Here’s how to apply it.
Crystal Armor Oleophobic Coating Kit
A simple Oleophobic Coating Kit that includes all the basics for making your phone's screen feel like new.
One thing to note about aftermarket kits is they’re not as durable as the oleophobic coating that was applied during the manufacturing of your phone. You will need to re-apply after it wears off, usually after a year or so.
RELATED: Does Your Smartphone Really Need a Screen Protector?
Let’s go back to the question in the headline: Can cleaning your phone display ruin the oleophobic coating? The short answer is yes, it can—but touching your phone every day also causes the coating to wear down. The oleophobic coating on your phone is not going to last forever no matter what.
That being said, obsessive cleaning with alcohol can speed up that process. If you’re not doing it all the time, you shouldn’t notice a significant impact. Cleaning your phone is important, but don’t overdo it.
RELATED: How to Disinfect Your Smartphone
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