With the recent outbreak of coronavirus, or COVID-19, we’re recommended to wash our hands always. The World Health Organization, or WHO for short, recommends all of us to frequently wash our hands with either soap or alcohol-based hand rub, also known as alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Quoting from WHO’s documentation:

Standard recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include frequent cleaning of hands using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water

And hand sanitizers are located at many places. From walls in the mall to receptionist desks, it’s a quick and easy way to cleanse your hands. Moreover, it dries out quickly so we don’t have to wipe our hands too.

MSI Creator 17 Mini-LED

Some readers have asked us if we can use hand sanitizer to spray or wipe our phones and cleanse that as well. To which I reply – please don’t do that.

Cleaning gadgets smartphones with hand sanitizer

I know it’s tempting. I mean what’s the point if we were already using our phones, then putting the phone back into the pocket to wash our hands with hand sanitizer, then back to our phones again? To fully be “clean” – at least in this context – is to sanitize the phone too, no?

Well, yeah that’s true. But this is not the way to do it. Here are a few reasons why.

Softening of adhesive

Modern smartphones – especially those that are glued shut and have IP-rating, has lots of adhesives inside the phone. For example, many smartphones require heat on the sides of the back panel first before using a suction cup to lift the panel, then a pick to cut the adhesive.

iFixit is well-known for showing their use of alcohol in their repairability videos to loosen the adhesive on the battery.

However, alcohol found in hand sanitizers are solvents of the adhesives. So, if you are disinfecting your phone with hand sanitizer, then don’t be surprised if your back panel falls off suddenly. You’ve already weakened the adhesive by spray the phone with hand sanitizer.

Potential short-circuits

While spraying your device with jets of hand sanitizer, it’s highly possible that some of the liquid (or gel) gets inside the device – especially those devices that don’t have IP-rating.

While we can’t speak for all brands of hand sanitizer, most of them have additional ingredients other than alcohol. We had two bottles with us, both of them have different sets of ingredients:

  • Bottle 1
    • Water
    • 3-trimethoxysilyl propyl dimethyl octadecyl ammonium chloride
    • Benzalkonium chloride
    • Fragrance
  • Bottle 2
    • Water
    • Denatured ethanol
    • TCE
    • Conditioner
  • Bottle 3
    • Denatured alcohol
    • Perfume
    • A lot of other chemicals

Some ingredient list is vague whereas some are very precise, and yet some are extremely long. Whichever the case, we are still unclear if there is any electrically conductive material inside the hand sanitizer.

Just don’t spray your device with hand sanitizer. It might cause a short-circuit.

“But isn’t isopropyl alcohol non-conductive?”, you might ask. And it’s true. We all use isopropyl alcohol to wash our and there’s also a big but – those components are already stripped and do not have power running.

Voiding your warranty

Even if your hand sanitizer might be non-conductive, it can still ruin your liquid contact indicator sticker. Which one am I talking about? This one.

Cleaning gadgets smartphones with hand sanitizer
Screenshot from Jerry Rig Everything.

Whenever liquid gets in contact with this sticker, it turns from white to red. When that happens, companies have the right to reject your warranty claim, citing that the device has liquid damage.

Also, keep in mind that IP-rated smartphones are tested with water, not seawater. Or hand sanitizer.

So how can we disinfect our phone?

Business Insider has stated that you can try using UV sanitization devices. Beaming UV rays on your device can potentially kill germs.

Apple and Samsung have officially recommended using microfiber cloth that is lightly dampened with soap and water to wipe your device. That’s the non-destructive way to clean your device.

We personally don’t have any methods to recommend, but I’m using alcohol swabs instead. It is actually just a swab with 70% isopropyl alcohol.

Cleaning gadgets smartphones with hand sanitizer
We don’t recommend it, but we do use alcohol swabs.

It’s not recommended since the oleophobic coating might be ruined – but I have a screen protector anyway. I have wiped my devices with alcohol swabs way too many times now and it’s still fine.

Using alcohol swabs might sound similar to spraying your device with hand sanitizer and will cause the adhesives to loosen over time, but these alcohol swabs don’t have an excessive amount of alcohol in them and highly unlikely to trickle inside the device.


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