Viruses: does hand sanitiser really work and should you disinfect your phone?

We’re fact-checking common advice on coronavirus prevention.


hands cleaning a cellphone with a spray and a cloth

The key to coronavirus prevention lies in knowing the facts and following sound advice. But with some much confusion and misinformation out there, it can be hard to know what to do. We explore some frequently asked questions and separate fact from fiction.

Do I need to disinfect my phone?

One of the key pieces of advice from the WHO is to regularly clean high touch surfaces. We already know that our phones tend to collect and gather all sorts of germs through daily use, so it should definitely be added to your cleaning rotation.

It is not necessarily at a higher risk than other frequently touched objects (like your keys or wallet, for example), especially if you are the only one that uses it.

However, if you have allowed anyone else to use it or have had to take it out in busy places or on public transport, you should definitely give it a clean. Major smartphone manufacturers have recently announced that it is safe to clean your phone with wipes containing 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or disinfecting wipes.

They warn against using abrasive chemicals or even antibacterial hand gels on your device (this can damage the screen’s protective coating) or submerging your phone in any cleaning agents.

Don’t have wipes handy? using household soap and water does the trick just as well, as this instructional video from the BBC shows.

How to clean your phone to reduce the spread of viruses:

  • Dampen a microfibre cloth with water and soap.
  • Gently rub any hard, nonporous surfaces on your phone, being careful to avoid getting any moisture into any ports or openings.
  • Dry your phone with a clean microfibre cloth.

It’s important to do this regularly, as our devices pick up microbes as soon as they are touched.

Is soap or hand sanitiser best for stopping the coronavirus?

Washing with warm water and soap remains the absolute best way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

If soap and water aren’t available, alcohol-based hand sanitisers containing at least 60 percent alcohol can also be a practical alternative, though both the WHO and the NHS recommend soap and water as your first port of call.

If you are using hand sanitiser, make sure to work the gel into all parts of your hands, including into the webs of your fingers, your fingernails, knuckles, back of the hand and even your wrists. Like with hand-washing, rub it in for at least 20 seconds.

If your hands are visible dirty (this can be especially true for kids), then definitely try to stick to soap and water as it has been shown to be more effective – the friction of washing helps reduce the number of microbes on your hands, along with the dirt and any other organic materials.

Adult hands washing with soap and water

Should I be wearing a mask?

The short answer – probably not.

While pharmacy shelves struggle to keep up with demand for face masks, official guidelines stress that if you are healthy, you don’t need to wear a mask (unless you are caring for someone who may be infected by the coronavirus).

In the majority of cases, wearing a disposable mask will not help protect you from the virus as they are not designed to keep out viral particles.

If you are ill, however, they can help keep germs from your nose and mouth from reaching others, though it’s vital to remember that you should stay at home if you are showing any coronavirus symptoms.

Should I be disinfecting my post as coronavirus prevention?

Health experts are in agreement that it is highly unlikely that you can catch the coronavirus from packages and letters, even if they were sent from affected areas, so there is no need to spray down that parcel.

While viruses can live outside the body and on surfaces (which is why you should regularly clean high touch areas), they can’t last as long as it takes for mail to be sent from places like Italy and China to the UK.

Originally published