How to Clean Your Smart Watch Without Ruining It

How to Clean Your Smart Watch Without Ruining It

Two weeks ago, I got a new Apple Watch to replace my old one, which has spent the last year or so of its life in my junk drawer, save for a few days it spent in the no-man’s-land of my bedside table. The old one, it goes without saying, has become very dirty. I got the new one after coming to the conclusion, for the 137th time in my life, that it’s time to “get it together” and start taking my health seriously, so I’ve been wearing it to work out and sleep for a whole fortnight. It, too, got dirty, but in a different way. 

What better opportunity, then, to test out two methods of cleaning a smart watch?

Smart watch cleaning method #1: Soap and water

The method that cropped up most in my research on cleaning smart watches involved mild soap and water, so that’s what I decided to try for my old watch. I read that if the device is waterproof, you can actually dunk it in a bowl full of warm water and a drop or two of dish or hand soap. I used Mrs. Meyer’s, but you can use any mild soap as long as you don’t overdo it with the drops. I do not know if my old watch is waterproof and I do want to try to sell it, so I opted to use a soft cloth to rub the soapy water on the face and sensor instead of dunking it. As far as I can tell, there is no good reason to submerge your fancy tech. 

Before doing any kind of washing, remove your watch band, just to make it easier on yourself. You should also power off your smart watch (since mine was dead, I didn’t bother). I buffed the tiniest bit of soapy water around the machine with the cloth and, sure enough, everything came off fine, including a large streak of unidentified gunk that I think was spray paint from many moons ago. I used a dry section of the cloth to wipe it again, removing excess dampness.

I ran into an issue when I peeked in the little troughs where the watch band connects to the device itself. They’re tiny, just millimeters across, but they were remarkably dirty inside. My cloth wouldn’t fit and for a moment I wondered if this was why some people were plunging theirs into bowls of water, but when I folded a wet wipe in half and pulled it tight, I could easily slide the corner I’d made into the groove and it did the trick. If there’s truly nasty crust in yours, try a paper towel dipped in your soap-and-water solution. 

Smart watch cleaning method #2: Isopropyl alcohol

For my new watch, I repeated the trick of sticking a wet wipe in the grooves that hold the band, but used a q-tip dipped in 70% isopropyl alcohol to spot treat the grosser parts, which looked and felt kind of oily. Where the older watch was dirty because of its retirement in the junk drawer, this one was dirty because of lotion and sweat; alcohol is better for oily messes than water, obviously, so before you clean, consider what sort of streaks you’re tackling. Also know that before I did this, I read a lot of online debate about whether or not it’s a good thing to do, but felt confident enough after reading that little dabs are safe. Don’t use a cloth sopping wet with alcohol. 

If your watch is extremely dirty, try soap and water first. The alcohol should only be dabbed quickly on the exterior, then left to air dry. If you have any of those little alcohol pads, they’ll be perfect for this. Never let alcohol touch leather bands and try not to let it in any ports or holes, either. 

Since this watch wasn’t as dirty, alcohol worked fine. In both instances, I was a little worried about streaks, but after letting both air dry, there were none to report. 

Other things to keep in mind when cleaning a smart watch

I wanted to find some grime in the ports and holes on my watches, but I couldn’t. While I think this says something sort of nice about who I am as a person, it doesn’t help me much when I’m trying to find the best cleaning methods. From what I’ve read, if you do have visible gunk in the tiny holes on your watch, gently (very gently!) try to dislodge it with a soft toothbrush or blow on it at an angle. If it’s small or not blow-able, wipe gently with a dry cloth. There really aren’t any holes big enough on an Apple Watch to cause problems, but if your device has some, be careful not to push the icky stuff further inside.

Consider getting in the habit of running a damp cloth or paper towel over your watch after you sweat a lot or before you put it on the charger, too, to stop it from getting quite so dirty before its next real cleaning. Never use too much water, even if it’s waterproof—it should be dry before you power it back on, charge it, or wear it.

You should also clean your watch band regularly, but how you do that will depend on what it’s made of. Most of mine are fabric, so they go in the washing machine, but rubber ones can be cleaned with soap and water or disinfectant. If it’s leather, wipe it with a dry cloth, then use a drop of gentle soap (like hand soap) on a damp cloth to rub any messy spots. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away any soap residue and let the leather air dry, then hit it with some leather conditioner.  

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