How clean is your iPad? – a Which? hygiene investigation

ipad hygiene main

Your tablet or phone could be harbouring potentially dangerous bugs. We explain how keep your tech clean without damaging it.

We use them every day while eating lunch or a snack, but new Which? research has revealed tablets, smartphones and keyboards may have more bacteria lurking on them than an office toilet seat.

If you haven’t cleaned your iPad in a while, you’ll want to find out how to safely eradicate hidden nasties that might be spread over your device’s surface.

How we test tablets – find out how Which? rates tablet Best Buys

Tablet Bacteria 590px

How we test for touchscreen hygiene

After swabbing 30 tablets, 30 phones and 30 office keyboards and sending, we received the stomach churning results you see above. On one particularly dirty tablet, we found a swab count of 600 units per swab for Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause a severe stomach bug.

To put this figure in context, the Health Protection Agency classes any count of between 20 and 10,000 units for Staphylococcus aureus as a potential risk. By comparison, a typical toilet seat we tested had a Staphylococcus count of less than 20 units.

“A count of 600 on a plastic device of any sort is incredibly high,” says James Francis, the microbiologist who carried out our testing.

“In the food industry, if we found those levels of bacteria from a hand swab of a food handler, they’d have to be taken out of the workplace and retrained in basic hygiene.”

How to keep your smartphone and tablet clean

Now you’ve seen our tablet-toilet seat comparison, there’s a strong chance you’ll want to give your iPad a scrub with a soapy sponge. Don’t do it – you’ll risk damaging your touchscreen device with water.

Thankfully, there are some easy and safe methods for keeping your smartphone clean:

Do – hygiene tips

  • Unplug any cables before you start cleaning.
  • Use a damp, soft, lint-free cloth to wipe clean.
  • Use a dry lint-free cloth to remove streaks and dry your phone.
  • Avoid getting moisture in any openings or ports.
  • Disinfect using specially-designed screen wipes. Apple advises against using alcohol-based cleaners on iPads or iPhones as these can damage the screen.

Don’t – hygiene tips

  • Use a scratchy or abrasive material, as this would leave permanent marks on the screen.
  • Use an aggressive detergent that could erode fragile surfaces on phone or tablet touchscreens.
  • Use alcohol-based cleaners on iPads or iPhones, according to Apple’s advice for these products.
  • Only rely on wiping your phone on a shirt sleeve or dry cloth.

Your thoughts

Are you reaching for the nearest anti-bac wipe or staring at your reflection in a spotless touchscreen? Let us know your thoughts on our hygiene investigation in the comments section below.

More on this

Could your tech be dirtier than a toilet seat? – our Which? Conversation
Tablet reviews – we assess the latest devices
10 iPad tricks and tips – our handy guide

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49 replies

    1. Hi Terry – we’d advise against it. Although that advice was only explicitly given by Apple, other smartphone/tablet manufacturers use similar screen technology and alcohol-based cleaning fluids could damage the screens.

    1. You can buy it on Amazon.

      The online AppleStore also has a different product available,and this is presumably also available in their physical stores – apparently they dropped iKlear from their stores in 2010/11.

  1. I suggest we need to be wary of an over reaction to results of this sort. There are perfectly normal high levels of bacteria on skin which homo sapiens has survived for rather a long time. Is there any evidence of disease transmission from these reported “infected” screens? Since there are millions of iPads etc in use there should there not be some detectable global epidemic by now? And keep in mind that modern day excessive shielding of individuals from bacteria is suspected to be one of the causes of the rise in asthma and similar allergic conditions. Or is this a scam to generate sales of anti-bacterial wipes?

    1. A very good comment, John.

      We are told by all the cleaning product manufacturers that we must use their products or the human race runs the risk of dying out.

      Even if we do kill all bacteria in our own homes, we have no control over what others do, so the minute you step outside you are exposed once more.

      We need to cut back on over zealous cleaning, so that our natural immune system can do its job.

      We know that bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, and they will also develop a protection against cleaning materials.

      To quote Professor Bill Grant, reported on page 62 of the September 2013 Which? Magazine – admittedly talking about washing machines but I think making a generally valid point – ‘The major sanitising effect…is the removal – rather than destruction – of bacteria and viruses’.

      Yes, in food handling, bacteria levels need to be as low as possible, but here the general public is involved, with probable differing levels of immunity – and the food generally goes inside the body where bacteria can find breeding sites. In contrast, iPads and similar devices usually remain outside, where the environment is more hostile.

      Also, each device is normally used by a small number of people. The majority of the bacteria on the device will therefore relate to the same group, which is likely to have built up immunities to them.

      I think that a lot of products are sold to create a need (and of course profit), rather than a need producing a product to meet that requirement.

    2. I agree with many of your comments however I think this article may be specially pertinent to those with immunity problems, small children, pregnant women etc when sharing devices with those who do have some infectious illness.

      No harm in an occasional clean Id think for the average Joe

    3. I agree. If there is anything on my ipad, laptop or phone its come from me! As I am not ill, I presume I have immunity. There is far too much nonsense about bacteria and germs! People are paranoid! I clean my screens approx.weekly and that is fine. If people are using public computers in Libraries they should wash their hands before and after use and that is all that needs to be done. We all touch handrails, gates, gym equipment, door knobs all the time that other people have touched. Lets keep things in perspective here. Just wash your hand regularly.

    1. You say “I don’t own one” – fine, that’s your choice.
      You also say “and never will” – unfortunately that suggests the same sort of blind prejudice that you seems to think the Which? staff have.
      As for me, I admit that I do own an iPad… but I also have an Android phone. Both have their strengths and their weaknesses.
      Let’s leave ‘blind prejudice’ and ‘blind faith’ to things like which football team you support.

    2. Not prejudice. I don’t approve of Apple’s business methods and I believe their products are over priced and over hyped. If that colours my perception of Which? reporting then so be it.
      Please don’t accuse me of blind prejudice. I have been a member of Which? since the very beginning of the Consumer Association.

  2. What I would like to do would be: when down at the car jet wash, put it on the ground, stamp your heel on it and swooosh it down the drain because everytime I touch my smart phone it does something, things pop up all over the screen…Oh for the old Nokia 3230 :-)

  3. Not very helpful use of statistics here. “On one particularly dirty tablet, we found a swab count of 600 units” …… OK, that was the dirtiest, what was the average? What was the cleanest? Come on Which?, give us the whole picture, not just the scary headline.

    1. I agree with Len…we ought to be shown the whole range of the experiment. How many had protector screens? How many without? Was the sample random or from the same office? Re toilet seat…what was used to clean it? How often was this done? Bleach-based product or water damp cloth? How did you decide which toilet to sample?

    2. I expect that testing was inhouse, as little equipment would have been needed, so the next question is how many Which? personnel are coming down with infections picked up from their electronic devices – I suspect that the answer will be a big fat zero.

      Perhaps Which? could complete their report by telling us how many cases of actual infection from iPads and similar devices are recorded nationally each year?

    3. How about a report on the toilet seat? Sounds like a particularly clean one by the comparison. How clean are toilet seats these days? I know this is about electronic devices but as someone else pointed out the same applies to your mouse and keyboard, remote control, door handles and many more items. To this day I still see ppl use public toilets and then leave without washing their hands. Thats basic hygiene which some ppl really dont seem to get. Surely if we washed our hands after using the toilet, eating, sneezing etc only a more moderate dose of bacteria would be living on said items.

    4. And what level of bacteria found is considered to be “dangerous”? Was the whole machine tested each time (including screen protector) or just the screen?
      Children would be most at risk as they put their hands to their mouths so much.

  4. I have used Niceday screen / keyboard cleaning spray on with a lint free cloth on my PC for years. I have used it once on the iPad with no untoward results, other than a nice clean screen! The product does not state how it is made up, so I don’t know if there is alcohol -based or not. If it is, perhaps I ought to drink it first !!

  5. born in the early 40’s ours was a posh house, we had an indoor toilet. Many people had only outdoor toilets, sometimes shared by other households. Often only torn up newspaper, or scratchy toilet paper. No wash hand basin, no hot water on tap. We played outside in the mud and dirt, over the rec. on equipment with metal poles ,nobody cleaned them. So look at all of us oldies who are still going strong, we built up our own immunities, few kids has allergies of any sort. So lets stop making a fuss and being so “Politically Hygienic” and enjoy life building our own immune systems up.

  6. I’ve just use a clean, damp e-cloth of the window cleaning variety. Done often enough – it takes just seconds – it saves the use of nasty chemicals. Wipe any other devices, the laptop & the TV screen while you’re at it & stick it in the wash – the cloth, that is!

  7. My iPad has a protective screen but I clean it with the wipes I use for my specs. I also occasionally use one of the household anti-bacterial sprays on a piece of tissue for a quick all-over wipe.

  8. This is more like a tabloid scare story than a dispassionate consumer report. ‘Disinfect using specially-designed screen wipes’! Which ones? Something made by Apple? We are not told. With what active ingredient? We don’t know. I am looking at a typical screen cleaner described as containing de-ionised water and proprietary polymers. It claims to be safe and effective on all devices. Is it suitable for Apple products? I don’t mean according to Apple, I mean according to ‘Which’. If not, is it suitable for other products? I have no way of knowing. I think ‘Which’ needs to sharpen up, and produce better and more useful reports than this.

  9. I have been reading Which reports for long than I can remember and this must rank among the worst. It combines sensationalism with no useful information. You provide no adequate suggestions at all for any product which will sterilise a display screen.

  10. This is such nonsense. If you dont clean something you will find bacteria on it. The real shock is that Which decided to run it as a item…but with no guidance nor balance. And not just publish it but draw attention to it by emailing it to members. Just dismal.

    1. Stephen don’t be so grumpy! I thought it was a good article. It was fun trivia to share with my friends but more importantly gave me a reminder to clean my devices.

  11. What a welcome research. In open plan offices where there is desk sharing the cleaning of phones, keyboards etc is very important. I am sure that non cleaning of these items helps to spread the stomach bugs, coughs and colds that become rampant in these types of work areas, especially at this time of year. Now individuals have to take responsibility for this cleaning as office cleaners have been told not to touch the electronic equipment on the desks. Keep up the good work Which.

  12. This is one of the most ridiculous sensationalist unscientific pieces of research I have ever seen undertaken by Which? I am more and more convinced that money and time is spent on producing completely useless articles like this and not on conducting good consumer research as used to happen. In the past year I have come close to cancelling my subscription several times, particularly when a report seems to have been produced just so the staff can go on a ‘jolly’ to a tech fair or all get given new tablets/phones etc. Please go back to what you used to be good at. Anything that isn’t cleaned will get dirty.

    1. Ian, check out Lente Designs, a small British designer/manufacturer. They have an excellent range of non-boring covers and not a single nasty fake “leather look” among them! They sell on Amazon, eBay and from their own website. I have no connection with the company, I’m just a very happy customer and have eight of their products!

  13. Both Amazon & 7dayshop sell an excellent range. I bought mine via Amazon from a seller called JammyLizard & I’m really pleased with it. My daughter got an official Apple cover/stand – it was expensive & heavy & the trim started peeling off after about 8 weeks.

  14. I agree with most of the comments here. I use a screen protector on my ipad screen (to protect it) and screen wipes to clean it when necessary. As far as i’m aware I have not yet caught anything from it! But I wouldn’t recommend licking your ipad screen, just in case!

  15. Hi! Totally agree with the article – you shouldn’t clean your touch screens with Alcohol or other harsh chemicals. i looked around for a good solutions to clean and disinfect my ipad and so far the best I have tried was from a Finnish company called Nordic Hug. They ship it directly from their website and you can also find them on Amazon UK. They are very popular in Scandinavia but not yet well known in the UK. My iPad looks like new each time i use their wipes! Highly recommend!

    1. Forgot to mention: be careful with products on the market! – regulation is not strict when it comes to disinfectants – they use some nasty chemicals to kill bacteria which are harmful to you and your skin. Check their MSDS (safety data sheets) to see what they use:

      iClean: Formaldehyde ( very toxic chemical and proved to be cancerogenic)

      Techlink (Keepitclean) : Propylene Glycol Methyl Ether (PGME) – solvent, not safe for the touch screen and not proven to be strong against bacteria

      AM Denmark: basically soap inside, leaves residue, not that effective against bacteria

      iKlear: Methyl Paraben – the famous Paraben, which is proven to be cancerogenic

      So far the only product I am feeling comfortable to use is Nordic Hug wipes. I trust scandinavians and their innovative formula.

      Yes – i did my research because I share iPad with my 6 months old daughter and dont want to poison her with chemicals.

  16. Makes you wonder how clean these self-check in desks are at hospitals I do not like to use these because hundreds of patients are using them and I never see them get cleaned. It would be a good idea to do a hygiene investigation on them

  17. John Lewis sell a screen protector for £30 for your ipad that can be removed , washed, and refitted.
    It also fits easily without leaving ” little air pockets”, recommended even though expensive.

  18. On what basis do you (other than Apple’s advice) decry the use of alcohol on smart phone and iPads. The screens are made of the toughest available glass which is the medium most used to contain alcohol. I have used Wet Ones and Milton wipes on our family iPads for over a year now with no noticeable adverse effects. Have you carried out tests to back up your statement?
    Regarding bacteria on screens, our doctors’ surgery has a touch screen to book in with when you arrive, I cannot imagine a worse place to put your fingers given the lack of hygiene shown by men in public toilets. This is certainly born out by your test results. Bugs like Winter Vomiting can live for several days on such surfaces I believe.

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