Smartphone toilet wipes grab eyeballs at Japanese Airport
A man demonstrates a toilet roll for wiping smartphones, installed by Japanese mobile phone company NTT Docomo, in a high-tech bathroom equipped with bidet and heated seat at Narita international airport in Narita, Japan, December 28, 2016. Reuters
Wuhan Coronavirus
Twitter / Imran Iftikhar

In the wake of the ongoing coronavirus contagion, governments, industries, airports, and even hotels, schools, and offices are taking every possible precautionary measure to contain the epidemic that has claimed 1,669 lives so far. Amid all the fear and commotion, the most common precaution that many people seem to be taking is using face masks.

However, according to Singapore's Health Ministry, cleaning your phone and washing your hands regularly could prove more beneficial in fighting the coronavirus spread than wearing a face mask.

The face mask trend in Singapore

Thousands of people across the world are donning masks to safeguard themselves and this has become a common sight in Singapore after four local doctors issued a homemade advisory urging locals to wear masks while going out in the public.

In the advisory that has gone viral on WhatsApp and other social media platforms, doctors Colleen Thomas, Judy Chen, Tham Hoe Meng and Lim Pin Pin suggest Singaporeans "wear a mask always when leaving home and avoid mingling in public". They claim doing this could stop community spread of the coronavirus contagion within two weeks.

Clean your dirty smartphones

However, the Ministry of Health's director of medical services, Kennet Mark, seems to disagree with their claim, saying that despite "a lot of well-informed advice" from various quarters, including doctors, there was no evidence to show that the coronavirus was airborne, making masks an ineffective method of protection. Instead, he advised that a more effective method was for people to clean their mobile phones which are among the dirtiest items they own.

"Be aware of the things you commonly touch. The thing most commonly touched (item) is your phone, so wearing a mask is not the most important thing," a Straits Times report quoted him as saying.

Phones have more bacteria and germs than toilet seats

The mobile phone is easily among the dirtiest items that people carry around.

A number of studies have found that the "unassuming" mobile phone contains more germs and bacteria than toilet seats. The fact that many people take their phones to the toilet where faecal bacteria collects on the phones is a bigger concern, since it is a quick and immediate way of contamination and a good reason to avoid taking your smartphone to the toilet.

Besides, phones are often held close to the eyes, nose, and lips which have been proven to be the areas of the body that are most prone to coronavirus infection.

How to clean your phone

The most effective way to sanitize a phone and rid it of bacteria and germs is with a UV smartphone sanitizer device as suggested by a 2018 study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, not everybody owns a UV smartphone sanitizer, so it is also fine to use an alcohol solution which is found to be effective.

According to the same study, the crevice or gap between the phone and the phone's case is the dirtiest part of the phone. So it goes without saying that you should concentrate more on this area.

Homemade alcohol solution

American microbiologist Charles Gebra said an alcohol solution can be prepared at home by combining 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol. The solution can be used to wipe the phone using a microfibre cloth, a cotton pad or swab dipped lightly in the solution.

However, Gebra warned that users should avoid spraying the solution directly on the phone or using antibacterial wipes on the screen because doing so could damage or strip the phone of its water-resistant coating or the oleo phobic (oil-resistant) coating on the screen. Nevertheless, antibacterial wipes are safe to clean phone cases.

You should avoid using cleaning solvents including household cleaning solutions such as window cleaners, kitchen cleanser, makeup removers, dishwashing liquids, hand soap and even vinegar.

When no other options are available, simply wiping the phone with a dry microfibre cloth provides some decontamination.

Washing your hands also helps keep your phone from getting dirty to some extent.