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How Germ-Ridden Is Your Phone? You Really Don't Want To Know

Please stop using your phone on the toilet.


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

A woman with funky hair licking her smartphone.

Yeah, uh, you really don't want to be doing that, ma'am. 

Image credit: Kristina Kislichenko/

Forget toilet seats and the soles of your shoes. One of the most germ-ridden objects in your house is most likely in your hand or your pocket right now: your smartphone. How germy are these devices exactly? A number of studies have looked into this question and their findings are quite something.

What kind of bacteria lives on your phone?

A study published last year in the journal Scientific Reports swabbed the phones of 26 hospital medical staff. In total, they found 1,307 different bacterial strains, not to mention a broad collection of pathogenic fungi, viruses, and bacteriophages.


Of course, healthcare staff are more likely to be exposed to a range of pathogens given their risky work environment. However, it’s evident that even the Average Joe’s phone is still rife with many different kinds of potentially pathogenic bacteria. In 2011, scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary found that up to 16 percent of phones harbor significant numbers of E. coli, a common food poisoning bug, found in poop.

Along with E. coli, the most common bacteria found on phones tend to be:

  • Staphylococcus, a ubiquitous bug that often causes staph infections of the skin
  • Actinobacteria, a broad family of bacteria that can cause tuberculosis, diphtheria, and bacterial vaginosis 
  • Citrobacter, which can lead to urinary tract infections, sepsis, and meningitis
  • Enterococcus, which can cause a range of infections, including meningitis

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also surprisingly common residents of smartphones. Another study of healthcare workers’ phones found that multidrug-resistant bacteria was present in 69.9 percent of samples. 

All of this is just as gross as it sounds. According to a study by the University of Arizona, phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats.

Why are phones so damn dirty?

You might be curious how smartphones become a bustling hive of pathogens. Well, a survey in 2018 found that three out of four people in the US admit to using their phone whilst on the toilet. We’re sure you can imagine the rest.

It’s estimated that the average person taps, swipes, and clicks their phone screen 2,617 times each day. For heavy users, that figure doubles to 5,427 touches a day. In between these touches, our hands constantly pick up new microbial hitchhikers from touching handrails, shaking hands, pressing elevator buttons, and so on. 

So, could you actually get sick from your phone? Well, research suggests it’s possible. It's certainly enough to put you off doomscrolling while eating a sandwich. 

How to clean your smartphone and keep it germ-free

Fear not, though. Despite all of these findings, it is fairly easy to keep your smartphone clean and relatively germ-free. 


First, remove any debris with a soft and lint-free cloth, then use a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol-based wipe. The alcohol will kill off the most problematic pathogens and should evaporate away before entering the inner workings of the device. 


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