A back-story, followed by my answer to the question posed in the title. If you just want the latter, skip to the part that begins “So, here’s what I did” (in bold).
Oh internet, how you’ve failed me. There I was, entertaining my sick four-year-old at home by letting her play her favorite games on my iPad. Not to get too graphic about it, let’s just say that lots of stuff flowed and/or was ejected at high velocity from her face. A good deal of it landed on my iPad screen, and then was smeared around by her cute little fingers. She didn’t care. I sure did.
No problem, I thought. I’m sure there is a way to disinfect the screen. Why, I’ll just ask the internet. As she played, I whipped out my Droid and searched for the wisdom from the collective.
Turns out, nobody seems to agree on how to disinfect a touchscreen device. Oh sure, everyone can tell you how to “clean” it. Just wipe it with a lint-free cloth, maybe with a dab of water. No big deal.
But ask the hive mind how to disinfect a touchscreen and you’ll get a load of snark. Why do you want to disinfect it? Are you some kind of germ-a-phobe? Don’t you know the germs came from your hand anyway? Just wash your hands you moron!
Well, no. Turns out touchscreens are everywhere, including hospitals and doctors’ offices. Plus, if your device is a phone, you put it to your face. Maybe you lend it to people, like four-year-olds who think snot is a suitable finger lubricant. I would not rub my four-year-old’s snot on my face, not without a really good reason anyway. I’d rather do a bit more than just smear my daughter’s effluence around the screen. I don’t think adding water and mixing is sufficient.
So, there are legitimate reasons to want to disinfect touchscreens. But what product may I use that will not damage the device?
Many online tech forum participants recommend rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Just as many say it’s a bad idea. The thing is though, the ones who recommend it have actually used it and do not report any ill effects. The ones who say it is a bad idea don’t say it ruined their device. They just worry. Worry is not evidence!
So, here’s what I did. I roughly followed the advice at wikiHow. I bought the highest concentration rubbing alcohol available at my local drug store (91%). wikiHow recommends 97% or higher, but that’s for cleaning the electronic innards, as well as the screen. The concern about cleaning the inside with lower concentration product is that it might act as a conductor and short the device. I do not care at all about disinfecting the inside of my device. (Seriously, that’s nuts!) I also bought some cotton pads, the type people use to remove makeup (I guess). I poured a bit of the alcohol on the pad, rubbed my touchscreen, then wiped it down with a lint free cloth. My screen looks awesome and clean. I see no problems, but I will report them if any occur.
Oh, one more thing, the cotton pad I used to disinfect my iPad screen came up filthy. I don’t mean just a little dirty, I mean really grimy. Even though I do wipe it with water pretty regularly (I hate smudges!), my screen was disgusting. This is not surprising, given how it is used. (Same goes for my Droid.) I am glad I cleaned it with more than a bit of water.
As for all you tech forum participants who had nothing to contribute to this problem other than to ridicule those who asked a legitimate question, you made the internet look bad (low bar, I know). Because of all the dust you kicked up on this, it was surprisingly hard to find an answer to this question that I felt I could trust. It’s a good question. It deserves an answer. Now you have one. You’re welcome, internet. You may now return to your regularly scheduled snark.
UPDATE: A reader writes, “According to Apple, [a]lcohol should not be used on an iPad. iPads have an oleophobic coating which repels oil. Each application of alcohol will cause significant degradation of the oleophobic coating. For more information, see: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht3226”
At the link it also says, “The ability of this coating to repel oil will diminish over time with normal usage, and rubbing the screen with an abrasive material will further diminish its effect and may scratch your screen.” Maybe alcohol will accelerate the degradation somewhat. But, occasional disinfecting may be worth that trade-off to you. As I wrote above, nowhere have I seen anyone complaining that use of alcohol damaged their device. Also, nowhere at the Apple link will you find any advice on how to disinfect your touchscreen. There is information on disinfecting your keyboard, trackpad, or mouse. So, this is not very helpful.