We take our phones everywhere, so it’s inevitable that they’ll eventually feel the brunt of the life we’re living. And just as we hit the shower first thing after a long weekend of camping, our smartphones also need a deep cleaning once in a while.
No matter what life throws at you—soft drink, dirt, or some unrecognizable type of adhesive—there’s a way to safely remove it from your smartphone without shortening the life of your device. Here’s a look at some of the most common smartphone messes and how to clean them, from taking gunk out of your charging port to getting the dirt off a fabric case.
Problem: Gunk in the charging port
Wireless charging is not yet the defacto standard for smartphones, so until then, we’ll have to contend with grimy charging ports. Lint, dust, and other debris that lives in our pockets and bags can collect in our devices’ charging ports over time. This might even explain why your phone doesn’t always start charging when you plug it in.
You’re going to want to grab a toothpick and get to work. I like to use plastic toothpicks because the traditional wooden ones tend to split pretty easily. You can even use a SIM eject tool if you have one lying around, or the pointy end of a plastic spudger. When you’re ready, shine a bright light onto the charging area and carefully insert the toothpick. Start digging out what’s in there by making soft scooping motions alongside the outer edges of the port. Be rigorous, though not too aggressive to damage the port.
This method works for both Apple’s Lightning ports and Android’s USB-C ports. If your device is a little older and it’s sporting microUSB, try spraying compressed air at the area before attempting to dig in with a toothpick. And if you decide you’re going in, be gentle, because the protruding connectors inside are easy to bend.
Problem: Dust in the speaker grill
Stereo speakers are a welcome addition to smartphones, though that also means that devices are a little more porous than they used to be. Before hacking at your speaker grill with a sewing needle or a SIM eject tool, try blasting a can of compressed air at the hole to remove what’s obstructing it. If that doesn’t work, then that means you’re working with harder material. Very carefully, use your needle or SIM tool to remove whatever’s stuck in there with the same up-the-sides motion as you used cleaning the charging port.
Problem: Food residue on the screen
I take my smartphone with me out to eat because staring into the void when you’re alone at restaurants seems to creep people out. It’s amazing what can end up on your phone after just one meal. Whether it’s a speck of marinara sauce or a few droplets of olive oil, quickly blot the area with your napkin to keep what’s spilled from spreading, then wipe it out to get the excess.
You’ll have to do deep cleaning when you’re home or near a sink. Place a tiny bit of dish soap onto a clean towel or cloth napkin and then rub it together under the faucet to create some suds. Don’t get it soaking, but get enough on there that you can wipe the phone clean. Soap and water are safe to use in small quantities, particularly on water-resistant devices. Wipe down the phone to get rid of any excess grease from your foodstuffs, then dry it off as you would if you’d washed your own hands.
Don’t forget to sanitize your phone afterward. Keep a spray bottle of a half-and-half mixture of white vinegar and distilled water to use in cases like this, then wipe down the device with a sheet of microfiber cloth. Or if you’d rather buy something, stick with alcohol and ammonia-free cleaner like Koala Kleaner.
If you often find yourself in this sort of food-on-your-phone predicament, consider investing in packs of individually-wrapped device wipes to keep on you in times of need. Amazon has plenty of varieties, and Sephora packs them up real cute for folks who want to feel fancy about cleaning their phones.
Problem: Unidentifiable stickiness
There have been a few times when I’ve removed my smartphone from its case only to find there’s some sticky, tacky residue that’s set up shop on the back of the device. In most cases, rubbing it with your thumb can help remove whatever it is. You can also try rubbing the surface with a wet soapy cloth to help soften it up.
If your fingers aren’t getting the job done, try a plastic spudger or the edge of a credit card to scrape the surface without scratching up your phone. In some cases, you can try rubbing a Q-tip or cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover on the area before scraping it. Be careful doing this, though, because acetone-based removers can be harsh on the painted-exterior of some phones. I’d only recommend this last step for heavy-duty jobs, like removing sticker residue.
Problem: Makeup all over the screen
It’s nice to catch up with old friends who are still willing to talk on the phone, but that’s also how skin oils and creamy makeup end up on our screens. If I’m at home, I’ll grab my bottle of ammonia and alcohol-free Koala spray, then wipe down the phone with a microfiber cloth. If I’m out, having a microfiber cloth handy or one of the aforementioned individually-wrapped device wipes can help make the phone feel clean again.
Some have suggested investing in an oleophobic screen protector to help curb the attraction of grease and fingerprints, but clearly, that person hasn’t worn full coverage foundation on a hot summer day. For best results, switch to video calls and stop putting the phone up to your face.
Problem: Phone case is filthy
Whether you’re working with an inexpensive plastic phone case or an intricately-designed fabric one, you can extend its life by cleaning it every so often.
If your plastic case is looking dull, try soaking it in a bath of warm water and dish soap, then scrubbing at it with a toothbrush. The bristles will help soften up what’s caked on there. If the case is stained by ink or dried food, try wiping it down with a towel sprayed with a bit of Method all-purpose cleaner. In both cases, be sure to wipe off the case and let it dry before placing your smartphone back inside. If neither of those methods works, you can also try rubbing at the area with a cotton ball soaked in 70 per cent or higher rubbing alcohol.
On fabric cases, you can still use the toothbrush. Dip it in soapy water to scrub the case down, or use a bit of baking soda to buff out stubborn material. Be sure to spray down the case with your homemade or store-bought disinfectant once you’re finished.
Problem: Charging cable needs a wipe down
The charger to my Pixel 3 is white, and it’s prone to picking up on dust, dirt, and soot from my travels and hikes. A bit of warm soapy water on a clean towel is usually enough to get it wiped down. Be careful not to soak the cable, however. In case of tougher marks, try to bit of Method cleaner on a rag trick.