You need to stop using your phone on the toilet

 ·1 May 2023

While health concerns regarding cell phones usually focus on the distraction they can cause while driving, the possible effects of radiofrequency exposure, or just how addictive they can be, the microbial infection risk of your phone is much less appreciated – but it’s very real.

We carry them everywhere, take them to bed, to the bathroom, and for many people, they’re the first thing they see in the morning – more than 90% of the world owns or uses a mobile phone, and many of us couldn’t manage without one.

A 2019 survey found that most people in the UK use their phones on the toilet. So it’s unsurprising that studies have found our mobile phones to be dirtier than toilet seats.

We give our phones to children to play with (who aren’t exactly well-known for their hygiene), and we also eat while using our phones and put them down on all sorts of dirty surfaces. All of which can transfer microbes onto your cellphone along with food deposits for those microbes to eat.

It’s been estimated that people touch their phones hundreds, if not thousands of times daily. And while many of us wash our hands regularly after going to the bathroom, cooking, cleaning, or gardening, we are much less likely to consider washing our hands after touching our phones.

Given how disgusting and germ-infested phones can be, maybe it’s time to think more about mobile phone hygiene.

Germs, bacteria, viruses

Hands pick up bacteria and viruses all the time and are recognised as a route for acquiring infection. So too, are the phones we touch. Several studies on the microbiological colonisation of mobile phones show that they can be contaminated with many different potentially pathogenic bacteria.

These include the diarrhoea-inducing E. coli and the skin-infecting Staphylococcus, as well as Actinobacteria, which can cause tuberculosis and diphtheria, Citrobacter, which can lead to painful urinary tract infections; and Enterococcus, which is known to cause meningitis.

Klebsiella, Micrococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas and Streptococcus have also been found on phones, and all can have equally nasty effects on humans.

Research has found that many pathogens on phones are often antibiotic resistant, meaning they can’t be treated with conventional drugs. This is worrying as these bacteria can cause skin, gut and respiratory infections that can be life-threatening.

Research has also found that even if you clean your phone with antibacterial wipes or alcohol, microorganisms can still recolonise it, indicating that sanitisation must be a regular process.

Phones contain plastic which can harbour and transmit viruses, some of which (the common cold virus) can live on hard plastic surfaces for up to a week.

Other viruses such as COVID-19, rotavirus (a highly infectious stomach bug that typically affects babies and young children), influenza and norovirus – which can cause serious respiratory and gut infections – can persist for several days.

Indeed, since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has introduced guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting mobile phones – which, along with door handles, cash machines and lift buttons, are considered reservoirs of infection.

In particular, concern has been raised about the role mobile phones can play in the spread of infectious microbes in hospital and healthcare settings and schools.

Clean your phone

So it’s clear that you need to start cleaning your phone regularly. The US Federal Communications Commission recommends daily sanitation of your phone and other devices because we are still in an active COVID-19 pandemic, and the virus can survive for several days on hard plastic surfaces.

Use alcohol-based wipes or sprays. They need to contain at least 70% alcohol to disinfect phone casings and touch screens, which must be done every day if possible.

Do not spray sanitisers directly onto the phone, and keep liquids away from connection points or other phone openings. Avoid using bleach or abrasive cleaners. And wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve finished cleaning.

Thinking about how you handle your phone will also help you avoid becoming colonised with germs. When not at home, keep your phone in your pocket or bag and use a disposable paper list of to-do items rather than constantly consulting your phone. Touch your phone with clean hands – washed with soap and water or disinfected with alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

You can do other things to avoid your phone becoming a source of viruses. Do not share your phone with others if you have an infection or have not first sanitised it. If children are allowed to play with your phone, sanitise it as soon as possible afterwards.

And get in the habit of putting your phone away when not in use, then sanitising or washing your hands. You might also want to occasionally sanitise your phone charger while cleaning your phone.

Read: These are all the Checkers stores that will stock PRIME drinks at launch

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter