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How to sanitize your phone and other tech, according to doctors

Many ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizing devices are selling out. We found where they're in stock and consulted germ-expert MDs on how to shop for them.
PhoneSoap UV sanitizer on kitchen counter; The best smartphone and other tech UV sanitizers. Brands include PhoneSoap, LARQ, HoMedics and more
We asked MDs how ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizing devices work and how to best shop for one.PhoneSoap

Editor's note: There are no products on the market right now specifically targeting COVID-19 or coronavirus. While some products, like face masks, might help reduce the possibility of infecting others, buying those or any of the UV light sanitizers below is not a conduit for treating, preventing or curing COVID-19 or coronavirus, nor does it replace or relieve the need to wash hands and practice safe social distancing, alongside the rest of the CDC's coronavirus guidelines.

From one-minute cleaning hacks to exhaustive cleaning guides, we often share ideas on how to best stay clean in a fast-moving world. Right now, cleanliness is especially important considering the global impact of COVID-19.

It's important to know that one of the simplest prevention measures you can take to limit the spread of the coronavirus is proper hand-washing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands with soap and water before eating, after using the bathroom and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, as well as before and after caring for a sick friend or family member. With the increasing spread of the novel coronavirus, the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO) and medical experts recommend that you wear cloth masks in public. It notes recent studies show individuals may be able to transmit coronavirus to other people even though they are asymptomatic. "This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms," the CDC advised. Thus far, more than half of the states have implemented face mask covering requirements to help curb the spread of the virus.

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Beyond proper social distancing, washing your hands regularly and wearing a face mask, brands have created at-home UV sanitizer devices to help reduce bacteria and germs on your phones and other electronic devices. To find out if UV sanitizers are worth buying, we consulted medical doctors for their expertise and rounded up the best UV sanitizers on the market in 2020.

IN THIS ARTICLE What are ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizers? | How do they work? | Best UV light sanitizers | Phone and tech screen wipes

What are ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizers?

“Unlike the average American, our tech devices don’t take a shower each day,” says Michael Schmidt, PhD, a professor with the department of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. “We take a shower to remove the microbes affiliated with our skin. The only thing that microbes like better than human skin is plastic and glass,” he explained. In other words, microbes are attracted to your smartphone, your earbuds, your tablet and other products you likely use everyday.

Until recently, your best option was to use a microfiber cloth — or an alternative — to physically wipe these microbes away. Recently, companies have been releasing products equipped with ultraviolet (UV) light to sanitize products (or themselves). These UV light sanitizers promise to rid your tech and other household items of germs that might make you sick.

How do UV light sanitizers work?

On the UV light spectrum there are UV-A, B, and C lights. Only the UV-C light can kill germs, says Philip Tierno, PhD, a clinical professor in the department of pathology at New York University Langone Medical Center. “This light has a range of effectiveness, which interferes and destroys the nucleic acids of bacteria and other microbes,” Tierno explained, adding that the range of light can also disrupt proteins in the microbes by killing certain amino acids.

They work best on smooth surfaces and have limitations, Tierno advised. “UV-C penetrates superficially, and the light can’t get into nooks and crannies,” he explained. That includes things like buttons or phone cases, which are lined with crevices. If a germ is encased within a food particle, for example, the UV light won’t be able to get at it.

“These kill microbes quickly," Schmidt says of UV sanitizers. "But when your device comes out, it’s only as safe as its last encounter." In other words, using the UV light sanitizer doesn't license you to get dirty and ignore possible new germs on the phone.

Are UV sterilizers worth it?

Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, says that there is “no question that UV radiation is damaging to the virus.” However, he is quick to note that the efficacy of these UV light devices is limited, especially when compared to hospital-grade UV light sanitizing machines. “I just have a hard time trying to find a role for this (UV light sanitizers) that is effective in the general public where you have an actual, meaningful impact and not some kind of marginal benefit that’s not really worth it,” he says. Adalja adds that a UV sanitizer won’t replace basic hygiene measures including hand washing, refraining from touching your face and maintaining social distancing. Additionally, the EPA recently approved Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist as products effective against coronavirus, although Adalja says this approval is more of a marketing benefit for the company. “For me, it doesn’t really make much of a difference whether or not you use one (disinfectant) that has that label or does not have that label,” he says.

Ehsan Ali, MD, of Beverly Hills Concierge Doctor Inc, says he actually uses light sanitizing devices in his personal life. “UV light devices are worth purchasing because they are known to be effective and have already been in use pre-COVID for sanitation purposes,” he says. Ali adds that while he uses a UV box for keys and phones, plus a light that covers larger areas, he doesn’t recommend one brand over the other because he feels “they are pretty much the same” across the board. He also says that you can “absolutely” use these UV sanitizers to disinfect other items, such as face masks, retainers, glasses or makeup brushes.

Overall, if you want to take an extra step to kill bacteria on your phones and other personal items, then consider ordering a UV light sanitizer. These sanitizers can really shine if multiple people are around your tech devices throughout the day — as in an office, for example. They make for a quick clean for your tech after your kids (or grandkids) had their way with it. And they can be helpful after a day out hiking, gardening, running and so on or a day in cooking, cleaning or playing around with your pets. Beyond UV-sanitizing devices that clean your tech, there are also products that use UV light to clean what's inside them, like water bottles that self-clean (because you know you don’t wash your water bottle as often as you should.) These also employ UV-C light to rid germs and viruses on their interior.

Editor's note: Some of the below products have sold out in recent months and their availability ebbs and flows. We've added extra options for you to consider as you navigate the best sanitizing solutions for yourself.

UV light sanitizers to shop in 2020

1. PhoneSoap 3 UV Smartphone Sanitizer & Universal Charger (in stock)

The very highly-rated PhoneSoap 3 can charge whatever device you drop into it via USB-A or USB-C. It's a solid addition to any office, too.

2. HoMedics UV-Clean Phone Sanitizer (in stock)

The smaller iteration of HoMedics portable UV light sanitizer will fit your phone and little else — which might be worth the trouble considering the amount of time we use our phones.

3. LARQ Bottle (in stock)

Just like tech device sanitizer, LARQ's bottlecap is equipped with UV-C LED lights that are designed to purify up to 99.99 percent of bacteria and viruses in your water. The bottle is set to self-clean every two hours so you can just move through your day knowing your water is getting a zap of UV-C every once in a while. Its double-wall vacuum insulation keeps cold for 24 hours or hot for 12 hours, adding to its value the foundation of an all-day water bottle. This month, retailer Uncommon Goods released its own edition of a UV-C LED light self-cleaning bottle that looks a lot like the LARQ.

4. Wireless Charging Station with UV Sanitizer (in stock)

This sleek wireless charger charges your phone while disinfecting it. It uses UV light and ionizer technology to help eliminate 99.9 percent of bacteria on your phone in about 20 minutes.

5. HoMedics UV-Clean Portable Sanitizer (in stock)

Highly-rated and similar in its approach to your tech as the PhoneSoap above (which is currently sold out), HoMedics has a portable sanitizer you can use to keep cleaning the surface of your phone, smartwatch, keys, wallet, glasses and so on.

6. Casetify UV Sanitizer (in stock)

Equipped with a high-efficiency UV light, the new Casetify UV Sanitizer includes six mercury-free lamps that help eliminate germs in about three minutes — the portable design makes it easy to fit in a backpack. Right now, 100 percent of proceeds from your Casetify UV Sanitizer purchase will go directly to Global Giving's Coronavirus Relief Fund.

7. PhoneSoap Pro (pre-order, ships July 31)

PhoneSoap designed its products to kill 99.99 percent of bacteria and germs on devices surfaces in five minutes. The recently released PhoneSoap Pro has been redesigned to be larger so it can fit bigger smartphones, their cases, and accessories like AirPods.

8. PhoneSoap Go (pre-order, ships August 19)

As the name implies, this recently updated mobile sanitizing device hold its own charge and doesn't rely on your phone's battery to cleanse its surfaces. For commuters, this might be a quicker and easier solution.

9. HomeSoap UV Sanitizer (pre-order, ships September 10)

The larger HomeSoap product can fit tablets and other items like remote controls and game controllers. Built-in USB ports allow you to charge the devices up while it cleans them, and it has an on/off switch, giving you more control over the process. For any family whose many hands come together from different places, the HomeSoap can act as a gatekeeper to reduce germs and bacteria in the house.

Phone and tech screen wipes

If you're at home and looking to remain vigilant with your screens, wipes might come in handy. Whether for your laptop, phone or tablet, screen wipes are a solid solution no matter the occasion. They might not always sport any micro-bacterial properties so be sure you know what you're getting.

1. iRoller Screen Cleaner (in stock)

It's exactly what it sounds like, a rolling screen cleaner you can use repeatedly. Liquid free and compact, the iRoller will keep smudges and dirt off your phone.

2. Endust for Electronics and Surface Cleaning Wipes (limited availability)

A solution that's slightly more old school, these wipes let you wipe your electronics — and then toss out the wipe. If it's a concern, they're alcohol-free — which right now is noteworthy since these cannot help with bacteria or actual sanitization.

3. MagicFiber Microfiber Cleaning Cloths (in stock)

Reusable microfiber cloths are smart to keep on hand for a dry wipe-like solution that is designed not to scratch your screens. They're also versatile and can help keep clean everything from your phone and glasses to your computer or tablet.

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