Is your touchscreen device making you sick

Interesting piece in the WSJ about how your smartphone or Ipad harbors tons of harmful bacteria, yet there’s no approved method of actually cleaning and disinfecting the thing.  I discovered this after an extensive internet search a few months back when Alex had a stomach bug and vomited on his Ipad (fortunately, it was unharmed).  I was hoping that this article would say that there’s no some consensus on how to safely disinfect the devices.  But, sadly, no.  This is absolutely ridiculous:

“People are just as likely to get sick from their phones as from handles of the bathroom,” says Dr. Cain of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“These are the unintended consequences of new technology that we haven’t seen before so we don’t know all the risks yet,” he says.

Phone companies caution against using most household cleaners—which can leave phone owners like Ms. Evitt in a bind.

“It’s really problematic because a lot of manufacturers don’t tell you what coating is on the phone,” says Dr. Schmidt. “It’s hard to tell if an alcohol wipe will strip the oil-repellant coating and damage the phone screen.” Screenmaker Gorilla Glass, a provider to more than a dozen smartphone brands, says one of its screens has an easy-to-clean coating that will “survive repeated wiping.”

An Apple spokeswoman directed a reporter to the customer manual, which explicitly forbids the use of “window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia or abrasives.” …

Derek Meister, a tech support agent from retailer Best Buy’s Geek Squad, suggests a UV disinfectant wand as the best cleaning solution because its light rays kill germs without touching the phone. Creators of a new product called PhoneSoap say it uses UV-C light to clean the phone while charging it, and that the device will begin shipping to consumers in January 2013.

Seriously?  There’s not a single chemical that actually kills germs but is safe for a touch-screen?  Is this some sort of crazy conspiracy?

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to Is your touchscreen device making you sick

  1. itchy says:

    Attention entrepreneurs! Actually, the UV light thing sounds viable. Or just give your screen some sun exposure every day.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Hmmm. So how true is that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” business anyway.

    • Mike from Canada says:

      UV tends to break down a lot of man made chemicals, so it might not be any better then using a biological disinfectant, say like Quattro, a hospital disinfectant that is highly diluted for general use. The quaternary disinfectants have a positive charge which disrupts the negative charge of bacteria cell walls. (if you live long enough you collect all sorts of useless information) I have no idea how that would effect the coatings on an Ipad or such.

      Quattro is available in one gallon jugs and 45 liter drums. The jug would probably last an average household about thirty to forty years if used as a general sanitizer.

      Of course the average life cycle of these products isn’t all that long these days, so it might not really matter all that much. But you would think the makers would be looking into this sort of thing.

  2. itchy says:

    UV rays kill bacteria. They break down DNA, which is why sunlight can cause cancer. UV light is used in biology labs for sterilization. (Source is my molecular biologist wife.)

    But, yes, regarding its effectiveness for touchscreens, as Mike said, there could be chemical effects from prolonged sunlight exposure. But my guess is, the window between killing bacteria and breaking down chemicals is large, so there’s somewhere in between that this could be workable.

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