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Consumer Reviews

Isopropyl alcohol for cleaning electronics

Clean electronics with isopropyl alcohol

Electronic devices have sensitive surfaces and delicate components and cleaning them can be a daunting task. It's an essential task, however, because they're some of the dirtiest items in our homes. In addition to everyday dust and dirt that adheres to surfaces and impedes proper function, studies have shown that handheld electronics — smartphones, tablets, game controllers, keyboards and remotes — can be germier than public restroom toilet seats, particularly if they're used by more than one person.

The good news is that cleaning your electronic devices doesn't require harsh chemicals or a big-time commitment. Isopropyl alcohol, when used correctly, is a safe, effective method to clean and sterilize electronics without harming them. That said, the CDC recommends always checking the manufacturer's instructions on cleaning first.

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What is isopropyl alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol, or IPA, is the most common disinfectant used in hospitals and in the manufacturing of electronics and medical devices. It's used in different concentrations to affect the desired cleaning and/or disinfecting result. It should be used only in a well-ventilated setting because it's flammable and potentially a health hazard if used improperly.

IPA is the best compound to use on water-sensitive devices like computers, laptops or any other electronic devices because it evaporates and dries almost instantly. The percentage number on the label indicates the percentage of alcohol per volume — the higher the percentage, the higher the alcohol content and the quicker it evaporates. 99% isopropyl alcohol with its lower water content is an ideal cleaning agent for sticky residues, grease and grime. Concentrations of around 70%, also known as rubbing alcohol, have higher water content, remain on surfaces slightly longer and are better at disinfecting.

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Cleaning smartphones and tablets

Before you start (and this is true of any electronic gear), power down your device, remove the case if you have one and unplug any accessories such as headphones. You can even remove the battery if possible. Your main cleaning tool should be a microfiber cloth, which won't shed fibers inside the phone.

When it comes to cleaning phones and tablets, less is more. Some portable gadgets, such as the iPhone and iPad, have oleophobic (oil-repellent) screen coatings that can be damaged by alcohol. With these devices, wipe them with a dry or slightly damp cloth and use a dry cotton swab to remove dirt from edges. Apple recently changed its cleaning guidelines to include the use of 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes on its products' hard surfaces.

Cleaning computer keyboards

Similar rules apply when cleaning your computer. After powering your device down, Microsoft suggests carefully wiping the keyboard with a microfiber cloth or cotton swab dipped in an isopropyl alcohol (IPA) solution that's 70% or less. This works well for the cover, case, buttons and keyboard, but not on touchscreens which like phones and tablets, have a delicate coating. Computers are even less waterproof than phones, so keeping moisture to a minimum is crucial.

For the touchscreen or monitor, use a dry microfiber cloth and gently wipe horizontally, then vertically across the screen. If the screen is still dirty or greasy, Dell recommends mixing a 30/70 solution of water and isopropyl alcohol on its products, spraying the solution on a cloth (not directly on your device) and gently wiping the computer screen.

Cleaning TV screens

LCD and LED flatscreen TVs are easily scratched and damaged and should therefore be cleaned in the same way as touchscreen monitors — with a clean, dry microfiber cloth and diluted isopropyl alcohol solution (if necessary) on stubborn fingerprint marks. The same applies to DVD players.

Cleaning accessories

Television remotes and other controls are a haven for viruses and bacteria and are often handled by multiple people. A study from the Virginia School of Medicine revealed that people with the common cold virus transferred the virus to 35% of common sites such as TV remote controls and telephones in just 24 hours.

For any electronic device, if the exterior is mostly plastic (gaming mice, gamepads, TV remotes or earbud headphones) you can remove the batteries, use a cotton bud to remove any debris stuck between buttons, then wipe gently with isopropyl alcohol.

Can I clean with presaturated isopropyl alcohol wipes?

Disposable isopropyl wipes can be used for cleaning and disinfecting and have the advantage of being portable if you're traveling or if, for example, someone asks to borrow your phone. They're made of a fabric that won't shed lint into sensitive components. 99% alcohol wipes are regularly used in the production of electronic components, so they're safe for keyboards and buttons. 70% presaturated alcohol wipes work well for disinfecting on the go.

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Bryony Gilbey is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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