A woman wiping down a smartphone while wearing a facial mask.
Alina Troeva/Shutterstock.com

Smartphones are germ magnets at the best of times. With the spread of the novel coronavirus, they’re a potential vector for infection. The virus can potentially live on your phone’s screen for days.

Up to 96 Hours, as Far as We Know

The CDC says it may be possible to get COVID-19 if you touch a surface that has the SARS-CoV-2 virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose, or perhaps even your eyes. The organization recommends cleaning and disinfecting “high-touch surfaces” daily.

According to the World Health Organization, the original SARS-CoV virus from 2003 was stable on glass surfaces for up to 96 hours (four days). It lasted on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours (three days). For more details, see page 29, under “Stability and resistance of the SARS coronavirus,” in this report on the original SARS virus from the World Health Organization.

A recent study by the National Institute of Health found that the current novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) can live on surfaces like plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours (three days).

The scientists didn’t test how long the latest coronavirus lasts on glass, but it otherwise had similar results to the previous SARS coronavirus.

With what we know, it would be best to assume the novel coronavirus can remain present and infectious on glass for four days. This applies to any device with a glass screen, from iPhones and Android phones to iPads and touchscreen Windows laptops.

Sanitize Your Phone After Going Out in Public

A person cleaning a phone with a disinfecting wipe.
Roman Krasnytskyi/Shutterstock.com

In theory, you could put your phone into quarantine for four days every time after touching it to ensure it isn’t contaminated with the novel coronavirus.

But, in the real world, you’re likely touching your phone constantly and could spread the virus from the phone to other surfaces. The coronavirus can last a long time on glass surfaces, so regularly disinfecting your smartphone is critical.

To stay safe, we recommend sanitizing your smartphone after every time you use it in public. When you return home, wash your hands properly and sanitize your smartphone at the same time. If you wash your hands without sanitizing your smartphone, you could then touch your smartphone, get the SARS-CoV-2 virus on your fingers, and then spread it to other surfaces—or your face, which could result in infection.

If you’re going to be out for a while, consider regularly using disinfecting wipes to clean your phone, just as you’d regularly use hand sanitizer or wash your hands. You should avoid touching your face in public (and in general), but you should especially avoid touching your face after touching your phone if it’s potentially contaminated.

A contaminated phone screen is also a risk if you have to hold your phone near your face to take a call. It’s best to keep your phone as clean as possible.

If you have an Apple Watch, you can even use Apple Pay with your Apple Watch to pay for things without pulling out your phone and touching it. Be sure to clean your watch along with your hands and phone. Some other smartwatches and fitness bands also include contactless payments, including Galaxy Watch watches (Samsung Pay), Google Wear OS smartwatches (Google Pay), and some Fitbits (Fitbit Pay.)

RELATED: How to Disinfect Your Smartphone

How Long Does the Virus Last on Other Surfaces?

That same NIH study also showed the virus can last on cardboard for up to 24 hours, copper for up to four hours, and even in aerosol form for up to three hours. Here’s what you need to know about the presence of coronavirus on various surfaces.

By the way, viruses aren’t technically considered “alive,” so it’s technically inaccurate to talk about how long they can “live” on surfaces. We refer to viruses as being “live” if they’re still infectious. After enough time outside a living cell—and exposure to the elements—the virus breaks down, falls apart, and becomes incapable of infecting anyone.