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.
Image: Larq Phonesoap
We asked MDs how ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizing devices work and how to best shop for one.LARQ; Phone soap
By Jessica Migala and Gideon Grudo

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Editor's note: As thousands of readers have been visiting this article — originally published Jan. 22 — and considering some of the products below have consequently been selling out across retailers, we're updating everything below and including some notes on general hygiene and cleanliness in response to the global spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Notably, we want to emphasize that while there are certainly products you can buy to aid you through the coming weeks, there are no products on the market right now specifically targeting COVID-19 or coronavirus — shopping alone is likely not a conduit for treating, preventing or curing COVID-19 or coronavirus.

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 in the limelight considering the global spread of a type of coronavirus that causes a disease called COVID-19. With flu season upon us — as well as the globally spreading COVID-19 coronavirus — it's important to know that one of the simplest prevention measures you can take is proper hand-washing. The 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 a family member. We will be updating this article as much as possible with in-stock sanitizers, soaps, wipes or cleansers in the lists below but they are selling out online — if you have a hard time finding what you need, your local pharmacy and general stores might have them in stock.

In this article

  1. Pharmacy items and basic medicine
  2. Food and home supplies
  3. First aid kit: soap, cleansers, sanitizing wipes and band aids
  4. Best UV light sanitizers for your smartphone and other devices
  5. What are ultraviolet (UV) light sanitizers?
  6. How do UV light sanitizers work?
  7. Best UV light sanitizers
  8. Phone and tech screen wipes

If you're here to learn about best practices on what you want to stock up on at home in case you self-quarantine in the near future, here are some things to keep in mind from Vicky Nguyen, the NBC News investigative and consumer correspondent, after she consulted the Department of Homeland Security and NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar.

Stock up on pharmacy items and basic medicine

It's wise to hold onto these at anytime — from pain relievers and cold and flu remedies to medicine for upset stomachs and electrolyte-heavy liquids.

Load your pantry with food and home supplies

Nguyen reports you want to keep a two-week supply of canned and non-perishable food and enough bottled water for everyone in your home — consider avoiding the increasingly prevalent panic-buying that's emptying store shelves. You might also want to re-up everyday home supplies.

Stock up your first aid kit with soap, cleansers, sanitizing wipes and band aids

As Nguyen reports, "the best defense against any virus is to practice thorough hand-washing," adding it's a "a great habit" to keep up everyday, every year and all the time.

Soaps and cleansers

Body, face and hand wipes

First aid kits

Best UV light sanitizers for your smartphone and other devices

Of course, there are specific ways to best keep your skin clean, whether it's oily, acne-prone, or otherwise. Yet, one device can often get neglected during our daily hygiene and cleanliness routines: Our phones, which we put through the ringer every day.

  • You’re constantly scrolling through it — eating, resting in between sweaty sets at the gym and so on
  • Maybe your kids are grabbing it with less-than-clean hands
  • Or maybe you're whipping up dinner (hello, raw chicken), following a Pinterest recipe.

There’s a lot of microbes hanging around on your stuff.

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," Michael Schmidt said. "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.

UV light sanitizers to shop in 2020

If you're considering grabbing a UV light sanitizer or a product that uses UV lights, here are some uses you'll likely get out of it:

  • These sanitizers can really shine if multiple people are around your tech devices through 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 days. We've added extra options for you to consider as you navigate the best sanitizing solutions for yourself.

1. 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.

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. Its black model is nearly sold out but red and pink options are still in stock.

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. PhoneSoap Pro (available for preorder only, ships May 18)

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.

5. PhoneSoap Go (available for preorder only, ships April 30)

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.

6. PhoneSoap 3 UV Smartphone Sanitizer & Universal Charger (available for preorder only, ships May 5)

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.

7. HomeSoap UV Sanitizer (available for preorder only, ships June 7)

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.

8. BrightINWD UV Light Mini Sanitizer Travel Wand (out of stock)

This travel-ready handheld UV-C light comes in wand form, allowing you to wave it over your target in places like hotel rooms — or bedding, hair brushes, bathroom counters and so on. The company claims it kills 99.9 percent of bacteria, like the others. Since UV-C light might harm your eyes, this wand has an automatic shut-off when overturned to keep your sight safe.

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.

9. iRoller Screen Cleaner

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.

10. Endust for Electronics and Surface Cleaning Wipes

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.

11. MagicFiber Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

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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