Photo: Lasse Kristensen/flickr Editorial/Getty Images
Photo: Lasse Kristensen/flickr Editorial/Getty Images

Your cell phone could be dirtier than a toilet seat; how to keep it cleaner

Those few minutes you spend scrolling through your Facebook feed or Twitter timeline while in the bathroom could potentially lead to a pileup of germs on your phone (and eventually your face).

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That’s according to recent research published in the journal “Germs.”

To determine how much bacterial contamination is on the phones of 16- to 18-year-olds, scientists from London’s Metropolitan University analyzed 27 cell phones belonging to high schoolers for a variety of bacteria using a contact plate method and microbial identification.

Scientists found bacterial contamination on all samples using the culture method and altogether, more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies and 20 different dominant microbial species were detected, authors wrote.

Most of the pathogens on those phones won’t make you sick, but some of them are concerning, Susan Whittier, director of clinical microbiology at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center, told

>> Related: The 10 germiest items in your home

“We’re not walking through a sterile environment, so if you touch a surface there could be something on that. There are lots of environmental contaminants,” she said.

And when you flush the toilet, germs spead everywhere.

Additionally, in an interview with The Sun, university microbiologist Paul Matewele said, “Toilet seats, handles, sinks and taps are covered in germs such as E. coli, which can cause urinary tract infections and intestinal illness, C. diff which can result in diarrhea, and acinetobacter which can cause a contagious respiratory infection.”

Related: How well are you cleaning the 10 filthiest places in your kitchen?

Most frequent contaminants of mobile phones, according to the study:

  • Micrococcus luteus
  • Acinetobacter lwoffii
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • Staphylococcus hominis

A previous study in South Korean teaching hospitals found touchscreen phones posed a significant risk factor for contamination by potentially pathogenic bacteria compared to button phones.

Related: Your kitchen sponge is filthier than your toilet, study says

However, the new research found no significant differences between the phone types.

The authors hypothesized that the high level of contamination of phones with potentially pathogenic bacteria may spread a role in spreading infection, but based on the results, this does not appear to be the case. Researchers called for future research on this subject.

Some limitations of the study include its small sample size and the inability to analyze bacterial contamination using culture and molecular methods on the same side of the phone at the same time.

To help keep your phones clean, try these tips from Whittier:

  • Mix a solution with 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol and use a cloth to clean your phone.
  • Don’t use liquid or spray cleaners.
  • Use a can of compressed air to get rid of dirt and food crumbs on your buttons
  • Wash hands before and after using the bathroom


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