Do Phone Sanitizer Devices Actually Work?

And how effective are they when it comes to killing coronavirus?

Do Phone Sanitizer Devices Actually Work?
Photo: Alfian Widiantono/Getty Images

Your phone touches everything that you do — there's no way around that. Every handshake has a way of making itself a part of your next Instagram scroll session. One oft-cited study even discovered that your phone carries 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Yikes. In the age of coronavirus, that's a pretty sobering thought.

Enter: Phone sanitizer devices.

You may have seen these phone-sized cleaning compartments promoted on your favorite morning show or while searching Amazon for disinfectant wipes (and discovering you're SOL). But do these phone sanitizer devices actually kill germs — and are they an effective tool to combat coronavirus? Ahead, experts weigh in.

Do Phone Sanitizer Devices Actually Work?

Portable phone sanitizing devices, like PhoneSoap and Casetify claim to wipe out 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria in just a few minutes — pretty impressive. All you do is pop your phone (you can also use it on other small items, like your watch or credit cards) into the compartment and let it work it's UV magic.

These devices work using UVC light (ultraviolet with wavelengths between 200 to 280 nanometers), which can penetrate and kill the very small viruses and bacteria floating in the air or on surfaces, explains Kara Pepper, M.D., an Atlanta-based internal medicine physician. (At the other end of the spectrum, you'll find UVA and UVB light, which have longer wavelengths and don't pack a germicidal punch.)

There's research to back up these claims, too. A 2018 study published by Scientific Reports showed that "continuous, low-dose" UVC light is a safe method for wiping out airborne viruses in indoor public spaces, such as the flu.

However, while phone sanitizing devices have been shown to be effective at knocking out certain viral germs, Dr. Pepper cautions that there are "no studies to date that specifically look at the effect of these devices on COVID-19."

Also worth noting: Phone sanitizing devices don't have the ability to work their sanitizing effects into hidden nooks and crannies. "They only work where the light can directly reach the microbes, so viruses trapped in crevices will not be terminated," Dr. Pepper explains.

In other words, these devices can be a helpful tool to knock out germs and grime (while keeping your phone charged) but not a total replacement for a good 'ol wipe down. (More on that below.)

Here, a few to consider:

HoMedics UV Clean Phone Sanitizer

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HoMedics UV Clean Phone Sanitizer

This HoMedics device collapses to a slimmer size, making it the perfect option for your stow-and-go phone sanitizing needs.

Casetify UV Sanitizer

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Casetify UV Sanitizer

The device might not yet be confirmed as a method to kill coronavirus, but 100 percent of the proceeds from this phone sanitizer go to GlobalGiving and its Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Lexon Oblio UV Sanitizing Wireless Charging Station

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Lexon OBLIO UV Sanitizing Wireless Charging Station

Like many phone sanitizing devices, this one from Lexon charges your phone, while also giving germs a full sweep.

So, What's the Best Way to Clean My Phone?

When it comes to coronavirus, experts say you're better off sticking with what has been proven to kill COVID-19: A common household disinfectant (e.g., Lysol) recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can also refer to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) complete list of household disinfectants.

"The cheapest and smartest thing to do is to use [a bleach solution] to wipe down all handheld electrical devices as that will sterilize the product effectively, use a damp cloth with that mixture will take care of 99.9 percent of everything," says Michael Hall, M.D., of Hall Longevity Clinic. The CDC notes this is an effective method for all high-touch surfaces which, in addition to phones, includes doorknobs, remote controls, light switches, and bathroom areas. Earlier last month, Apple recommended sticking with disinfectant wipes, like Clorox, or isopropyl rubbing alcohol wipes to clean your Apple device.

As for how often you should be wiping down your phone? Dr. Pepper says a good rule to follow is to clean your device as often as you wash your hands. "Every time you touch your device, you transfer microbes to its surface," she says.

And a quick reminder: "Don't bring it to the bathroom," Dr. Pepper says. "[This will] avoid unnecessary contamination."

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