Q As someone who likes to keep things tidy, I find my grimy electronics collection is an embarrassment. How can I clean my gadgets without damaging them?
A According to a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 92 per cent of tested cellphones were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, and one in six tested positive for E. coli, most likely originating from – yep, everybody does it – bathroom phone fiddling.
But you don’t need a microscope to know that gadgets are filth magnets. Dust and grease accumulate on screens with frightening speed. Hairs and crumbs find cracks, seams and nooks with deadly accuracy. Once-gleaming surfaces fall victim to discolorations of mysterious provenance. Clean gadgets look nice, of course. Sterile gadgets could help you through cold season.
First things first: barring a few speciality items, most of the things you need to clean your electronics are either already in your home or available at a hardware store. “Electronics cleaning cloths” and “electronics cleaner” solutions are re-branded, overpriced variations on conventional household products. Most of your gadget cleaning can be done with three tools: microfibre chamois or pure cotton cloths, distilled water and isopropyl alcohol.
Cleaning any screen should start with a light, dry wipe-down with a microfibre cloth. (It’s best to avoid paper towels, which are more abrasive and prone to dragging particulate dirt across the screen, scratching its coating.) Once the screen is dusted, soak a fresh chamois in distilled water – hard tap water will leave streaks – squeeze it out, and run it across the screen from one side to the other. At the end of every second or third stroke, re-fold the cloth so that a clean portion is touching the screen.
A cloth tainted with abrasive debris will do more harm than good. Wipe any beaded water dry with a fresh cloth. For stubborn finger smudges or layers of tar deposited by smoke, a 50/50 mix of isopropyl alcohol and distilled water will cut through almost anything without being so corrosive as to damage the screen. One caveat: some portable gadgets, such as the iPhone and iPad, have special self-cleaning, or oleophobic, screen coatings that can be damaged by alcohol. With those devices, stick to water. In all cases, keep clear of the very edges of the screens, which are dangerous entry points for moisture. Instead, use a dry cotton swab to remove dirt from recessed edges.
This 50/50 alcohol mix is a do-it-all cleaning fluid: wipe it over keyboards, mice, remotes and other plastic and metal surfaces to quickly kill bacteria and cut dirt and grease build-up. To clear hard-to-reach dust and debris – take a good, hard look between your keyboard’s keys – whack it with compressed air, which will blast free all but the most stubborn particles.
One device that deserves special equipment is your camera. Cleaning a lens with a contaminated cloth or a shirtsleeve can degrade delicate lens coatings, so invest in something like the Lenspen, which has a concave chamois tip treated with lens polish, or a similar product. These lens cleaners also come with retractable anti-static brushes for cleaning dust from image sensors; they also happen to be great tools for clearing ventilation grilles in laptops, desktop computers and game consoles.