UV Phone Sanitizers Are Everywhere, But Do They Work? Should You Buy One?

A photo of the PhoneSoap phone sanitizer.

People who are desperately trying to shake off the germs of their shockingly dirty phones may be tempted to buy an $ 80 UV disinfection booth. And while some wavelengths of UV light are great for killing microorganisms, including COVID-19, you better clean your phone the old-fashioned way.

Do UV disinfectants really work?

Scientists have discovered that sunlight can limit the growth of microorganisms in 1877, almost 150 years ago. It turns out that UV radiation does a decent job of destroying and damaging DNA. And while we are not about to resolve a pandemic by opening our windows, we can sterilize certain objects using specially designed UV bulbs.

The UV bulbs in question are not like the black lamps you buy at party stores. They use a particularly vicious form of UV light called UVC, which does a remarkable job of destroying genetic material. Our eyes and our skin are protected from the UVC rays of the sun due to the Earth’s atmosphere. But within the limits of a UVC phone disinfectant, bacteria and viruses are not so lucky.

So the answer is yes, disinfectants for UV phones can kill germs. New experiences suggest that UVCs can kill COVID-19, and long-term studies show that technology can reliably destroy SARS, a strain of coronavirus. Does this mean that a UV phone disinfectant is worth buying? Eeeehhhhhhhhh…

Is UV light more practical or effective than chemicals?

A photo of some UVC lamps.
Nor Gal / Shutterstock

There is no doubt that UVC light can kill germs. But high-quality UV phone disinfectants sell for around $ 80, while versatile fast-acting chemicals like rubbing alcohol are completely free. (Don’t clean your phone with bleach!) Tech fans will say you pay extra for convenience, but is that really the case?

It all depends on your cleaning habits. Are you the type of person who comes home, washing their hands, wiping everything and washing their hands for good measure? If this is the case, wiping your phone with your other belongings would take less time than using a UVC disinfectant.

But even if a UV disinfectant fits perfectly into your routine, the technology is not as effective as an alcohol cleaner. Maybe “effective” is the wrong word – the problem is that the cracks, ports and features of the dirt on your phone can protect germs from UV light bath. If you are afraid that microorganisms will prepare in these spaces, you should clean your phone with alcohol or supplement your UV cleaning with occasional wiping.

I’m not saying that UV disinfectants are totally unnecessary or inconvenient, it’s just hard to justify the price, especially if you’re buying for a family. Maybe you want to use a phone disinfectant as a night cleaning tool for your phone, but if you’re seriously concerned about bacteria and viruses, it might be easier to just leave a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a clean cloth in your kitchen counter. It is certainly cheaper. And while disinfectants for mobile phones can help you disinfect your phone on the go, 70% alcohol swabs are cheaper, smaller and do not need to be recharged.

And yes, I do know that Amazon sells cheap phone sanitizers for as little as $ 40, but I suggest that you completely avoid the bargain brands. Most of Amazon’s cheap phone disinfectants were listed in March or April and were not tested in the laboratory (premium brands like PhoneSoap have been tested). Do you trust an unnamed company trying to take advantage of a pandemic with unregulated and untested sanitation tools? Probably not, but you can trust good old fashioned rubbing alcohol.

The best alternative: rubbing alcohol

A photo of someone cleaning the phone with a cloth and alcohol.
Nitiphonphat / Shutterstock

UV disinfectants are fine. They do their job and they are worth it if you are willing to spend that money. But for most people, it’s best to stick with conventional cleaning products. The bleach is a bit too abrasive and doesn’t vaporize very quickly, so I suggest using rubbing alcohol instead.

According to the CDC, solutions containing at least 70% alcohol will kill properly disinfect your electronic devices and kill the coronavirus. You can use rubbing alcohol, disinfectant spray, or alcohol-based wipes, but no hand sanitizer. I suggest using pure alcohol as it does not contain any chemicals or additional scents that could damage your phone. (Amazon doesn’t have rubbing alcohol bottles at the moment, but these inexpensive bottles 70% alcohol swabs will work well. These are just alcohol and water.)

You don’t need to soak your phone to clean it with alcohol. Simply apply alcohol to a microfiber cloth (or a paper towel, clean cloth or tissue paper) and gently wipe your phone. Make sure to clean the case of your phone and any area generally covered by the case. You can use an alcohol-soaked toothbrush to clean the inside of the ports, but be gentle and do not scrub.

Now, this is the part where I tell you some bad news. You see, the glass on your phone has something called “oleophobic coating“, Which is a slippery glaze that resists grease and grime. This coating does not protect your phone from cracks or scratches, but it Is keep your phone shiny and smudge-free. Excessive cleaning with rubbing alcohol and other abrasives can accelerate the wear and tear of your phone’s oleophobic coating, leaving you with a fingerprint magnet on a screen.

However, losing the oleophobic coating is not a big problem. These coatings, which do not protect your phone from cracks or scratches, wear out naturally and are easy to replace. And hey, if you’re using a screen protector, you don’t have to worry about the coating at all. But if you’re a daredevil who hates screen protectors and doesn’t want to reapply an oleophobic coating, UV disinfectant could be worth $ 80.

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