Is It Safe to Sanitize Your Phone? Here's What You Can't Disinfect

The harsh chemicals in many cleaning products may be damaging your phone, jewelry, countertops, and more.

These days, people are trying to sanitize anything and everything they own to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, while it's a good idea to disinfect most things you come into contact with every day, your obsessive cleaning may be ruining some of your most treasured (and expensive) belongings. Certain chemicals in products approved for fighting coronavirus can seriously damage items like your jewelry and your leather wallet. To prevent this, we've rounded up some of the things you could be ruining by sanitizing them, from your phone to your floors. And for more tips on cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic, check out The Household Cleaners That Destroy the Coronavirus.

Cell phones

man wiping down his phone

Seeing as your cell phone is one of the things you are always carrying around, both inside and outside your home, it's imperative that you clean it to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, not just any sanitizer or approach will do. After all, moisture can quickly damage your phone.

"Apple recommends spraying 70 percent isopropyl alcohol onto a microfiber cloth before rubbing down iPhones, but you can also use a Clorox cleaning wipe—just make sure it isn't too damp," says Anthony Baldini, a technology expert and current strategist with Fin Strategies. "Sticking to this approach is the simplest, surefire way to disinfect your phone and ensures you won't damage your screen. Steer away from specialty cleaners and whatever you do, don't use bleach."


Jeweller hand polishing and cleaning jewelry diamond ring with micro fiber fabric

Your delicate jewelry can't handle abrasive chemicals, according to Laura McCurdy and Dana Fiddes, the experts behind New York City-based jewelry line Park & Lex. While they say it's easy to clean your own jewelry, it's also easy to ruin your precious jewels by using products like ammonia, bleach, or toothpaste on "pieces made of metal or gemstones."

Instead, for most jewelry, McCurdy and Fiddes recommend using warm, soapy water, which is gentle, but effective. However, if you have beaded jewelry strung on thread or leather, they caution against using any liquids, including water, and instead recommend wiping those down with a "soft, dry lint-free cloth."

Leather wallets

cleaning weather wallet with cloth

You might've heard that your wallet needs a good wipe down during the COVID-19 pandemic, but certain sanitizing methods can ruin the leather, says Hammad Faisal of wallet e-commerce site Aurochs. He says he tried using alcohol on his leather wallet and it changed color the next day, destroying the wallet "beyond repair."

According to the pros at Aurochs, you can use alcohol to clean your wallet; you just need to be careful about how much moisture you let sit on the leather. Using a 70 percent alcohol solution in distilled water, they recommend gently cleaning the entire surface of your wallet. After that, take a "dry piece of cotton or wool and rub the surface to absorb any excessive amount of leftover liquid"; then leave it to air dry in an "open and well-ventilated place," but never in the sun.

Granite countertops

Woman cleaning counter top in the kitchen

You're probably cleaning your kitchen from top to bottom these days, especially if you're continuously bringing in groceries or takeout. However, proceed with caution if you have granite countertops, says Jennifer Rodriguez, director of business development at Pro Housekeepers. "People are accidentally ruining countertops by using all-purpose cleaners on surfaces that could oxidize from the chemicals. It is important to research the proper way to clean countertops to avoid any accidental problems," she says.

For granite countertops, Rodriguez cautions that you should not use bleach, Windex, or Lysol products. Instead, you can use dish soap, warm water, baking soda, or isopropyl alcohol. And for more cleaning mistakes you may be making right now, check out 23 Common Cleaning Mistakes That Experts Say Actually Ruin Your Home.

Wood surfaces

Photo of Woman cleaning kitchen cabinets with sponge and spray cleaner. Female Using Spray Cleaner On Wooden Surface. Maid wiping dust using a spray and a duster while cleaning her house wearing yellow protective gloves, close-up

Wood surfaces are particularly in danger when it comes to sanitizing, whether they're treated or untreated. According to Dean Davies, a cleaning supervisor for Fantastic Services, you should never use disinfecting wipes on untreated wood surfaces, as they will "absorb the disinfectant liquid" and leave possibly untreatable stains behind.

As for treated wood, Kait Schulhof, cleaning expert for A Clean Bee, says that treated wood surfaces do not "react well" to harsh sanitizing cleaners like bleach or alcohol. The chemicals in these products can actually "strip the finish from treated wood tables, floors, and other furniture."

Door knobs and handles

Hands with glove wiping doorknob

The experts at Schlage, a leading hardware company, warn that while door knobs and handles should be cleaned regularly—as they're "some of the most touched surfaces in the house"—if not done properly, they can easily be damaged. Using cleaning products with abrasive chemicals, like bleach or chlorides, can damage common hardware materials, like stainless steel, brass, and copper. They recommend referring to your hardware's product manual for specifics on what can and cannot be used to clean it.

Another tip? Don't apply cleaners or disinfectants to your door knobs and handles while in direct sunlight or high temperatures; it can damage your hardware's protective coating.

Car interiors and exteriors

Worker Cleaning Car Dashboard. Taking Care of Vehicle Interior. Automotive Services.

Car interiors and exteriors are extremely sensitive to many cleaning methods, says Chris Richardson, vice president of reconditioning at automotive e-commerce platform Vroom.

"Abrasive cleaners can remove the clear coat or harm interior surfaces, so gentle dish soap is best," he says. "Wipe down all surfaces before and after you use the vehicle. Test the soap on a small, hidden area of the car first to make sure it doesn't harm the surfaces."

As for drying, Richardson says to stay away from regular towels as they can "scratch the paint" on the outside of your car and any "plastic surfaces on the inside." Instead, use microfiber towels. And for more coronavirus safety tips, check out 10 Awful Mistakes You're Making With Your Gloves Every Day.

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