Keep Shared Devices Clean from Coronavirus: What Products to Use/Not Use

Mobile Devices = Portable Petri Dish with > 25,527 Bacteria Per Square Inch
With the recent outbreak of Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) the World Health Organization has offered plenty of advice about how to avoid spreading the virus. Most of the information advises us to keep our hands clean and not touch our faces. But your hands aren’t the only things that touch your face…what about your mobile phone? 

According to a recent research project, the average person touches their mobile phone 2,617 times per day. Experts estimate that devices generally host 10 times more germs than toilet seats. Phones can be thought of as a “portable petri dish.”

This problem can be even more extreme when mobile devices are shared among employees. Multiple people touching a contaminated device is an easy way for viruses to spread quickly around a work environment. Recent studies from the Journal of Hospital Infection prove that coronavirus can survive on the kinds of glass and plastic found in smartphones for up to 9 days.

As concerns grow over the coronavirus, many companies are urging their employees to work from home. But not everyone can afford that luxury – hourly or contract workers typically aren’t offered the same perks and have to be physically present to do their job. For those hourly-workers in manufacturing, supply chains, retail, and transportation, being sick often means choosing between staying home and getting paid.

In these situations where working remotely is not feasible, businesses and employers need to start thinking through protocols that will protect employees from the spread of germs and illness. This starts with keeping equipment clean. If your employees use shared mobile devices, the frequent contact compounds the risk of the spread of bacteria from individuals to the equipment, and vice versa.

Keeping your Mobile Devices Clean

Cleaning and disinfecting shared mobile devices is important to be able to prevent the spread of germs among your employees. Additionally, without proper cleaning, dirt, debris, and chemicals can build up and affect the device’s performance. Examples of performance issues with dirty devices include sticking keys, touch screens off alignments, or deterioration of device components (charging leads, speakers, etc). 

There is a right way and a wrong way to clean mobile computers, tablets, printers, scanners, and other devices used in the workforce. Different hardware can handle different cleaners, so it’s always smart to consult your OEM website beforehand. For the sake of this article, we are going to assume that your company made a good decision and purchased ruggedized devices (Zebra, DataLogic, Honeywell) for your employees. One of the many advantages of ruggedized devices is that they are typically designed to be dustproof and waterproof, which makes them much more forgiving to cleaning. 

Although there is no exact “one size fits all,” standard for cleaning procedures, the following are typically best practices for the cleaning procedure of your devices: 

  • Always unplug your phone or tablet before attempting to clean it.
  • Don’t apply liquid or spray to the device directly, and avoid getting drips of moisture in any openings.
  • Remove all accessory attachments, such as hardware straps, cases, or cradle cups, from the mobile device and clean them separately 
  • Leverage microfiber wipes for screens and device surfaces. Never use paper fiber material like a tissue or paper towel, as they’re more abrasive and can leave scratches or streaking. 
  • Don’t clean broken or damaged devices or batteries.  They should be sent in for maintenance/repair first. 
  • Avoid cleaning with caustic chemicals that could damage your devices (see more below)

There is a difference between cleaning a device and disinfecting a device. Regular cleaning of a device by wiping it with a moist microfiber cloth is often enough to remove many kinds of bacteria. The disinfection of a device is an additional level of decontamination that eliminates long-lasting bacteria and viruses similar to the Coronavirus. 

According to the CDC, after a device has been disinfected at the beginning of a workday, a good rule of thumb for ratio for cleaning vs. disinfection is 5-to-1. In other words, a device should be disinfected after it has been cleaned with a microfiber cloth five times. With the current state of focusing on limiting exposure of viruses, you may be on the safer side disinfecting devices every time someone finishes using it.  

Use Proper Materials to Clean your Device

As mentioned before, it’s always smart to check the device user guide/support manual for approved and not-approved cleaning products (such as this guide for Zebra devices).  

In general, we recommend looking at the following types of materials to clean devices: 

  • Microfiber Towels: single-use microfiber cleaning cloths from Amazon
    Edgeless towels to eliminate any chance of scratching due to a rough seam. Machine washable and reusable. 

  • Lens Cleaning Wipes: Zeiss pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes 
    Typically designed for glasses and screens. Made of micro-fine tissue to ensure exceptionally gentle cleansing.
  • Clean Screen Wipes: Clorox screen cleaning wipes 
    Low-streaking, low-odor and specifically designed to eliminate dirt, dust, smudges, and fingerprints from screens and glass. 

  • Spray Bottles: Leak Proof Spray Bottles (bulk)
    It may make sense to mix your own cleaning solution and buy in bulk. If that’s the case, we recommend spray bottles. If you mix cleaning chemicals with water, be sure to use distilled or filtered water (impurities in the water may scratch screens). And remember –  spray the wipe or towel, don’t spray the device directly! 

  • Multi-Surface Cleaner: Windex multi-surface disinfectant cleaner
    Selecting the right cleaning solution can get tricky. Most manufacturers recommend a watered-down spray of a Windex type solution. Consult your owners manual before you finalize which spray to use. 

  • Electronic Cleaner: Isopropyl electronics spray cleaner
    Similar to the above item, some manufacturer’s devices can be cleaned with an Isopropyl-based cleaner.  

Avoid Chemicals that are Caustic or Could Damage your Device

Choosing the wrong cleaning agent can cause permanent damage to your mobile devices. The following cleaning agents have been known to cause damage to mobile devices and should not be used (unless otherwise explicitly recommended by your device manufacturer).

  • Hydrogen Peroxide 
  • Bleach / Chloride 
  • Acetone (found in nail polish remover or paint thinner) 
  • Benzene 
  • Toluene
  • Aqueous or alcoholic alkaline solutions
  • Ketones
  • Dipropylene glycol propyl ether-based chemicals
  • Carbolic acid

Per the above guidance. Always consult your device owner manual prior to leveraging any chemicals for cleaning. 

Train your Employees on Cleaning Devices

Having the right materials to clean your devices is only half of the battle. You also need to ensure your employees are trained on how to clean your devices. We recommend sending out instructions for your management teams to reiterate in your daily team stand-ups. Additionally, we recommend posting placards near where you store mobile devices to remind your employees to clean devices before and after shifts. 

We created a placard with some basic information about cleaning devices for you to use at your workplace. Click below to download a printable version:


What Else Should We Be Doing to Stop the Spread of Germs?

Clean devices are a smaller component of an overall strategy to keep your workplaces as healthy as possible. In addition to cleaning devices,  we recommend that you are doing everything you can to keep your employees healthy. 

Other things you can be doing include: 

  1. Have hand sanitizer readily available in all break rooms, meeting rooms, and bathrooms. 
  2. Have hand sanitizer next to any spot where employees are sharing devices or tools. 
  3. Put up signage reminding employees of proper hygiene and handwashing technique.  
  4. Ask your night cleaning crew to wipe down devices and racks with an approved spray 
  5. Have dedicated accessories for each user (i.e. earpieces, holders, wrist mounts). 
  6. Increase the number of janitorial services that are performed for bathrooms and shared spaces. 
  7. Look at protective antimicrobial coverings for devices.  Medical companies have been using solutions like Seal Shield for kiosks and devices. 
  8. Remind employees to not come into work if they have a fever or flu symptoms. 

Healthy Work Environments Save $$$

Most organizations commonly hold that their greatest asset is their workforce, so keeping them healthy should be a top priority for executives.  According to the Integrated Benefits Institution, illness-related lost productivity typically costs U.S. employers $530 billion per year. With the rise of Coronavirus, the lost productivity costs could be much higher in 2020.   

Investing in better mobile device hygiene along with your other measures can help your company stay more productive and profitable over the long run. Your employees and customers depend on it!