October 26, 2012

You’ve Got Poop On Your Phone

Take a moment and think back on the activities of your day, your daily morning routine, if you will. It’s likely you spent a little time in the bathroom, maybe cooked some breakfast and then began the commute to the office or workplace. Where was your smartphone during these steps? It’s likely you reached for your smartphone either between these steps or, as in the case of the bathroom, during these routines. Yes, our smartphones are always with us, which is what makes them not only so convenient and personal, but also incredibly disgusting, possibly reaching new levels of filth that humans are not yet ready to admit. Though you may have washed your hands after using the restroom or cooking bacon for breakfast, did you also wash your phone?

According to the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and chief of family medicine at Children’s Hospital Colorado, many people don’t consider their smartphones and other devices to be as filthy as they are.

“Some things we think are personal are actually more public than we imagine,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Cain.

Dr. Cain also explained that the nature of these smartphones, going from being pawed at to put to our faces, make them perfect for collecting bacteria from our hands and then placing them next to our ears, eyes and throat, leading to the flu, diarrhea and even pinkeye.

Just let that one sink in for a moment.

Beyond just understanding how disgusting your smartphone is, Dr. Cain also told the Wall Street Journal that doctors and smartphone manufacturers disagree on how these devices should be kept clean.

Phone manufacturers, for example, may suggest a cleaner which only removes dirt and fingerprints without removing harmful bacteria. Doctors, on the other hand, insist that these devices should be fully sanitized in order to be safe.

Michael Schmidt, a professor and vice chairman of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina told the Wall Street Journal, “We’re feeding the little creatures. We’ve all seen that greasy smear [on the touch screen].” According to Schmidt, wherever there is grease, bugs are present as well.

To prove this disgusting fact, the Journal had 8 randomly selected phones sent to a lab to be tested for different strains of bacteria.

While none of the 8 phones tested showed any sign of E.Coli or staphylococci bacteria, each of the phones were covered in coliforms, or better known as fecal contamination. Poop.

According to the testing, each of the phones had between 2,700 and 4,200 units of coliform residing on the surfaces. For context, drinking water is only allowed to less than 1 unit per 100 ml.

HML Labs, the facility responsible for testing these 8 phones, also tried a number of ways to properly remove these bacteria from the surface of the smartphones. After trying plain water, alcohol, Windex and Nice ’N Clean electronic cleaning wipes, HML found that alcohol killed nearly 100% of the bacteria every time. Water, on the other hand, was the least effective at killing off the poop bacteria. This is troubling, of course, as Apple’s suggested method to clean their iPads and iPhones is to use only “a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth.”

Apple even directly recommends not using “window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia,” which were all found to be effective in killing off the bacteria.

“People are just as likely to get sick from their phones as from handles of the bathroom,” explained Dr. Cain.

“These are the unintended consequences of new technology that we haven’t seen before so we don’t know all the risks yet.”

The Journal did reach out to Corning, maker of Gorilla Glass, which is found in Apple’s iPhone and other popular smartphones. According to Boh Ruffin, senior applications engineer at Corning Gorilla Glass, standard alcohol strips and other cleaning products won’t degrade the glass, though he was also careful not to speak directly towards the overall performance of the smartphone.

“The only thing that’s going to affect the glass is some type of hydrochloric acid,” says Mr. Ruffin. “Microfiber cloths work great to remove oil and dirt.”

In the end, it appears as if the best way to keep these bathroom bacteria away from your ears and mouth is to wash your hands religiously and either refrain from using your device on the commode or keep a stash of alcohol pads next to the bathroom sink for a quick smartphone rubdown.

Image Credit: Julien Tromeur / Shutterstock

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