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How to Spring Clean Your Electronics

Tips & How-To

How to Spring Clean Your Electronics

You probably don't want to know what lurks on your devices. Embrace your inner germaphobe and get scrubbing (without damaging your tech).

Spring is in the air but gunk is in your gadgets. There are the smudges and crumbs you can see and the creepy-crawly bacterium that you can't (and would rather not). Studies have shown that infection-causing E coli and Staphylococcus aureus, fecal matter (yep), and just plain dirt are hanging out on your tech.

That might make you want to dunk everything into a vat of bleach, but it wouldn't be the best thing for you or your devices. Instead, grab some microfiber cloths, Q-tips, distilled water, isopropyl alcohol, and dish soap and read our guide to getting your gadgets gleaming—after you unplug or turn off, of course.

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  • Phones and Tablets

    Say what you will but you've probably taken your smartphone or tablet into less than sanitary conditions (yes, the bathroom). You wash your hands but then you pick up your phone or tablet—and all the germs that have now attached themselves to it. It's a gross fact that phones tend to have 10 times the bacteria that toilet seats do.

    To scrub a phone or tablet, you have to take extra care since it's likely that it has an oleophobic (fingerprint-resistant) coating that could come off. Even a tempered-glass screen protector is likely to be treated with the same sort of substance. The gentlest way to clean the item is to take distilled water and a barely textured microfiber cloth and wipe it down. Use cotton swabs to clean around crevices like the edges of the screen and buttons.

    If your device has a screen protector that doesn't have a coating, you can get together some isopropyl alcohol, distilled water, a spray bottle, and a microfiber cloth. Pour one part alcohol and one part water into the spray bottle and then spritz a lint-free cloth with the solution and wipe down the phone.

    Make sure to remove any case you might have on your phone or tablet and also clean that with some water and a microfiber cloth. Make sure it's thoroughly dry before you put it back on.

    To keep your phone or tablet clean on a regular basis, keep some wipes, like Wireless Wipes, handy and swab it down daily. If you want to be fancy, try Well-Kept Screen-Cleansing Towelettes, which come in small patterned packages that fit neatly into pants pockets or purses.

  • Laptops

    Because your laptop travels, it has plenty of opportunity to pick up unsavory characters. Turn your laptop upside down and (gently) shake out the keyboard to rid yourself of the biggest and most obvious invaders: dirt and crumbs. Then grab a can of compressed air duster and blast it.

    Now make sure your laptop is not only unplugged but that the battery is removed. Lightly dampen a microfiber cleaning cloth and go over all the plastic or metal surfaces.

    To clean an LCD screen, use a product tailor made for the job, like EcoMoist Natural Screen Cleaner, along with a microfiber cloth that will prevent those streaks that other cleaners can leave. For touch screens, use water or eyeglass cleaner applied to a microfiber cloth. If you want a one-swipe solution, try 3M Notebook and Tablet Cleaning Wipes.

  • Desktops

    Your computer monitor might be the window to your world, but it's not an actual window, so no Windex. Instead, use a microfiber cloth dampened with distilled water or EcoMoist Natural Screen Cleaner if you have an LCD screen. If you have a touch screen, clean it with a microfiber cloth; for smudges, use only water or eyeglass cleaner applied to the cloth first to remove them.

    As for the plastic parts that surround the screen, spritz some window cleaner or just use water. The same goes for your tower. Just go over all the surfaces with a cloth and either water, general-purpose cleaner, or a mix that's half isopropyl alcohol and half water.

    Chances are you've picked up the nasty habit of eating over your keyboard and in turn your keyboard has picked up some crumbs. Shake your keyboard out over a trash can and grab a can of compressed air to get rid of the ones that lurk under the keys. Then get a damp cloth and go over the keys. Use a cotton swab to get inside the crevices. If your keyboard is particularly dirty, mix up a solution with half isoporopyl alcohol and half water, and use it on the cloth and cotton swabs.

    Your mouse spends the day skittering across your desk and it can track plenty of dirt. Use the same alcohol and water solution, dab it on a cotton swab, and run it over the feet of the mouse and through any cracks and crevices. Then take a cloth dipped in the solution and go over the body of the mouse and the cord.

  • Televisions

    When you're taking care of the rest of your cleaning, you might stop in front of your television, spritz it with a glass cleaner, wipe it down, and move on. In the words of millions of headlines: you're doing it wrong.

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    Glass cleaners can be corrosive and many television screens have anti-reflective coatings that are very sensitive to the chemicals in them. To properly clean a screen, apply water to a microfiber cloth and gently go over its surface.

    Don't forget to clean any remote controls you have while you're at it. They can be crumb-filled, smudgy messes. Remove the batteries from the remote, shake loose any crumbs, and then blast the buttons with a bit of compressed air. Then go over the surface with a mixture made up of one part water to one part isopropyl alcohol applied to a microfiber cloth. Dip a cotton swab in the solution and run it around all of the buttons.

  • Game Consoles and Controllers

    Your low score could possibly be blamed on a gunked-up game controller or console. That's the good news. The bad news is that game consoles and controllers can get particularly nasty.

    First, dust off the console with a dry microfiber cloth or Swiffer duster. Then go over it with a microfiber cloth and a small amount of water. Dip a cotton swab into water and run it through any crevices—but not any cutouts.

    For controllers, make a mixture of one part water to one part isopropyl alcohol and apply it to a microfiber cloth. Wipe down the controller thoroughly. Dip a cotton swab into the solution and run it around buttons and into crevices. Because you handle controllers so frequently, upkeep with some wipes like Wireless Wipes is a good idea that will save you a lot of work later and will cut down on germs and grossness.

  • Fitness Trackers and Smartwatches

    Your fitness tracker (and to some extent your smartwatch) is there to make you sweat, but that means it gets sweaty along with you. The good news is that both can stand up to some moisture. Clean the face with a bit of water and a microfiber cloth.

    For bands made of rubber (silicone, elastomer, etc.), rinse with water or wipe them down with a small amount of rubbing alcohol. If you're wearing moisturizer or sunscreen lotion with your band, use a gentle skin cleanser like Cetaphil on it. If marks remain, try erasing them with a rubber eraser like the Paper Mate White Pearl. Should that fail, mix one part baking soda to one part water to make a paste and then rub that into the band and wipe off with a wet cloth. If the band is still stained, you can try a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. But be warned: the "magic" in Magic Eraser is that it removes layers of the substance you're cleaning, so you're essentially sandpapering the band.

    Nylon bands can smell because they are especially prone to picking up sweat. If this happens or if the band is stained, mix a tiny bit of dish detergent and water to wipe them down, then follow with plain water.

    Metal bands should be wiped with a lint-free cloth and, if necessary, you can involve a small bit of water. If you have a stainless-steel band and it's gotten discolored, use a tiny bit of a stainless-steel polish like Bar Keeper's Friend, but make sure to thoroughly rinse it off so you don't transfer the chemicals to your skin when you put the band back on. For discolored, silver-plated bands, use a silver-cleaning cloth sparingly (plating flakes off easily).

    Leather bands can be wiped down with water and a microfiber cloth and cleaned with a good leather cleaner followed by a conditioner. Apple Brand (no, no relation to your iPhone) makes a good kit.

    Fitbit recommends cleaning the charging contacts on its line of trackers with a toothpick or a toothbrush dipped in rubbing alcohol. Dry the contacts with a lint-free cloth.

  • Headphones and Earphones

    Your headphones and earphones are some of the closest things to you. They're also coated in sweat and wax. These are just facts, gross as they are.

    Wipe down over-the-ear headphones with a microfiber cloth dampened with a little water.

    For earphones, remove the eartips and go over them with some water and a tiny bit of soap applied to a microfiber cloth. Follow with some plain water on the cloth to make sure all the soap is removed. Clean the grille parts of earphones by dabbing some adhesive putty like Blu-Tack onto them. Go over the wires with a very lightly damp microfiber cloth.

    AirPods, EarPods, and anything else that is an all-in-one unit without eartips can be cleaned only with a microfiber cloth. To remove wax and dust, you can take a bit of adhesive putty, roll a tiny bit into a ball and quickly and lightly press and remove it from any grille parts.

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