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How to clean your dirty, filthy, disgusting smartphone

Destroying your phone and tablet screens in the name of Thanksgiving prep? Luckily the clean-up part is easy.


Jam Kotenko


Ahhh, Thanksgiving—‘tis the time for laborious and often messy food preparation. It’s also the time to try and unplug and do things without gadgets, but let’s be honest: You’re going to be staring and swiping through recipe apps all morning.

And after you’re done with that, while your meal may be delicious, your phone or tablet is something else: disgusting.

Your baking powder or gravy or dough-covered fingers abused the poor thing, and now it’s time to give it a thorough cleaning.

If your first impulse is to grab at some random cleaning agent, fight that impulse. Although most touchscreens come with what’s called an oleophobic coating that’s designed to prevent fingerprints, they don’t always work optimally and can even be further weakened by harsh cleaning solutions.

To help you figure out the best method for cleaning your device’s screen, we compiled a “levels of filthiness” list for you to consult.

Level One: The regular everyday mess

Method: Microfiber cloth and nothing else

If you’re looking to get rid of fingerprints and mild smudges, all you really need to clean your screen is a microfiber cloth—it’s the square piece of cloth that usually accompanies optical solution products and eye-wear cases.  While a cotton cloth would work for this purpose as well, microfiber cloths are a tad better because the split fiber design successfully lifts dirt and keeps it locked in; it also absorbs water quite effectively. Remember to wipe and buff your screen in a circular motion to prevent streaks and further scratching.

Level Two: Stubborn food smudges

Method: Damp microfiber cloth + dry microfiber cloth

If no amount of circular buffing can get rid of the mashed potato streaks adorning your iPad screen, you can up your clean-up game by dampening your trusty microfiber cloth a bit—by bit, I mean tiny, like a couple of drops of water. While pre-buffing with the damp cloth, it’s important to remember not to press too hard, as it might damage your delicate tablet or phone screen. Once the whole surface has been run over with the damp cloth, use the non-damp microfiber to buff the screen completely dry.

Make sure to turn off your phone before cleaning, if nothing else, just to stop watching apps try to open or making accidental calls.

Level three: Actual dried-up food particles

Method: DIY cleaning solution + microfiber cloth

If you’re a secret slob who never fails to spill sticky stuff on your screen and subsequently forgets to wipe them off right away, you might need to concoct a mixture of either of the following:

  • A tiny solitary drop of dishwashing liquid with warm water

  • A quick dash of isopropyl alcohol with water

Note that even though most cleaning agents deemed safe for electronics are nothing but mere alcohol-plus-water mixtures, you still need to exercise caution. Start with a tiny dash of alcohol and add a drop at a time when stains are too tough to rub off. Use the same concept described in level two—dampen a microfiber cloth with your homemade solution and wring it to ensure that it’s not too heavy with liquid; follow it up by buffing the screen with a new microfiber until completely dry and clean. Never spray or drip your homemade cleaning solution directly onto your gadget’s screen.

You’ll want to remove any casing, turn off your phone, and use something like a Q-Tip or toothbrush if you really need to get in there. Bonus: This will help get some of the stubborn bacteria off your phone that make it more disgusting than a toilet.

Level four: So messy, it’s beyond DIY help

Method: Specialized wet wipes, cleaning kits + microfiber cloth

OK, so your screen is so terribly gunky that your homemade solution doesn’t seem to be enough (or maybe you just aren’t in a DIY mood). In that case, you can go online and check for cleaning products that were specifically designed for tablets, smartphones, and similar devices. Amazon is always a good source for well-rated and adequately described screen-cleaning merchandise. However, instead of being a gross lazy person waiting for a minimum of two days for these products to be delivered to your doorstep before actually cleaning your screen, find a brand that inspires ease of mind and head to the nearest supermarket or office supplies store to get it.

Or I guess wait, but if you get mashed potato residue in your ear, that’s on you. 

Photo via plasticrevolver/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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