Guide to Cleaning Your Smartphone


It’s March! Birds are chirping, trees are budding, and the snow is finally melting as winter exits and spring takes its place. And once you’re finished cleaning your home in preparation for the bright, warm months ahead, take a moment to consider your poor, unloved smartphone, mottled with sneezes, smudges, and fingerprints galore. This guide will help you on your way to restoring your smartphone to its fresh out-of-the-box-glory.

Warning: Restoring anything to its glory days can be perilous. Liquids, solid objects, and aggressive techniques can damage your device, and neither I nor B&H take any responsibility for cleanings gone awry. Proceed at your own risk.

The first step is the most important: Turn it off! Not sleep, or airplane mode, or double-secret extra-strength airplane mode. Turn. It. Off. The less electricity there is coursing through your handset, the less likely it is to be damaged.

To wipe down your screen, your best bet is a microfiber cloth, like the one you get with eyeglasses or a camera lens. These cloths pick up dirt and oils instead of spreading them around and are gentle on your display. Paper towels and tissues are a bad idea because of their scratchy fibers, as are dirty fabrics of any kind. Move the cloth in even motions, side to side or top to bottom. You want to “paint the fence,” not “wax on, wax off.”

Sensei Microfiber Lens Cleaning Cloth

Particularly stubborn marks can be taken care of by dampening your cloth with distilled water—but be careful of getting it too wet; you don’t want water making its way into ports, speakers, or microphones. Don’t use harsh cleaning solutions like window cleaners, soaps, and other harsh solvents. They can remove protective coatings that your screen needs.

If pure water doesn’t work, mix one part isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol with two parts water and use that to dampen your cloth, but be gentle: Even when diluted, alcohol can have a negative effect on oil-resistant screen coatings.

If you do end up using liquids on your device, you can use a dry microfiber cloth to clean up the excess. Just wait until you’re sure it’s completely dry to turn it back on.

The rest of your phone is likely made from plastic or metal, and will be more resilient than its glass surfaces. Nonetheless, microfiber is still your friend. If it’s dirty from your screen, wash it in soapy water and let it dry on its own. Or buy another one; they’re really, cheap and really, handy. You can use the same 2:1 ratio of water to alcohol, plain distilled water, or nothing at all if it’s clean.

For harder to reach spots, a cotton swab is your friend. Dip it in alcohol solution or distilled water, give it a squeeze to prevent drips, and work it into gaps in the bodywork and other crevices that attract gunk.

Most of the time, getting rid of smartphone grime is a purely cosmetic exercise. Where it can impact your phone’s performance, though, is cleaning out your device’s ports. As dirt and lint make their way into your charging port or headphone jack, the contacts can be covered and you might notice crackling audio or difficulty charging. Usually, a good cleaning can help, and I like to start with a compressed air duster, also known as “canned air.” Make sure that the can is held right side up to avoid droplets and vapor from escaping.

Typically, a few blasts can dislodge dirt particles, but sometimes that’s not enough. If you need a deeper cleaning, read on, but be careful: this is the smartphone equivalent of outpatient surgery, so move slowly and make sure that your device is well and truly dry before turning it back on.

Headphone jacks are mercifully easy, thanks to their tubular shape. A pipe cleaner with the end folded over (to avoid sharp points) works, but a better option is an interdental brush. If you’ve had braces on your teeth, you probably used these to clean out those hard-to-reach spaces. Find one that’s about the same size as the headphone plug, insert it into the headphone jack, and move it up and down in circles.

If that doesn’t do the job, dip it in rubbing alcohol (over 70% strength is ideal) and shake it off to remove drops before insertion. If you’re concerned about the water damage to the sensor, hold your phone so the headphone jack is facing down and try to keep the cleaner from reaching all the way in.

Charging ports take a little more precision. They’re larger and have more nooks and crannies for debris to hide out, not to mention more opportunities for damage. You’ll want something thin, like a sewing needle, toothpick, or even the SIM tool that came with your device. Having a look with a powerful flashlight may help you identify spots with packed-in lint (usually in the back corners) so you know where to concentrate your efforts.

Gently insert your implement of choice and work it around to loosen the debris. You may be able to pull it out on its own, or it may take another shot of compressed air. Take another look inside with the flashlight, and repeat as necessary. Once you’re all done, enjoy the satisfying click of plugging your phone in with a clean port and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Do you have any smartphone cleaning tips we can add to our list? Let us know in the Comments section. We’d love to hear them!

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