Enterprise Mobility & the Connected Worker Blog

How to Keep Your Devices Sanitized (Without Damaging Them)

by Pat Nolan | 04/14/2020


Step One: Wash Your Hands. Step Two: Read This.

Some of the most valuable personal assets that we have are our mobile computing devices: our tablets, laptops, and the smartphones that we feel uneasy being away from for too long. The same applies to the business world. The mobile devices that an organization deploys to all of its employees represent a massive financial investment. Beyond their price tags, these devices are invaluable to the operability and efficiency of the people and businesses that they support. Accordingly, we (most of us) take great care to protect them. Right now, though, the urgency to keep all of these devices sanitized overshadows the typical caution that people and businesses take to extend their longevity.

CovidUnfortunately, this new hyper-clean priority may be in direct conflict with the wellbeing of our devices. The intentions of constantly wiping your device down with any cleaning supplies you have handy are good – the WHO reports that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces generally for a few hours up to a few days, and the battery warmth that smartphones have and the dark pockets they’re typically stored in are especially habitable  – but might do lasting damage. Luckily, there are best practices for keeping your devices germ-free without doing irreversible harm, which we’ll summarize here for different classifications of devices. Regardless of the device type, first things first: wash your hands! In a recent post, Time reports “keeping your phone clean won’t matter much if you’re not practicing good hygiene” and washing your hands regularly. Makes sense. Once that habit is formed, Time also provides best practices for keeping iPhones and other consumer smartphones safely sanitized as recommended by Apple and other experts:

Cleaning Consumer Smartphones

1. Avoid bleach-, ammonia- and chlorine-based cleaners as well as Purell and compressed air – these are all too harsh. Opt for 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes and solutions. Still, even these can be abrasive to smartphones, so make sure to wipe gently in one direction without applying too much pressure.
2. Use a lightly dampened microfiber cloth to wipe your device down. There should be no remaining moisture on the device after cleaning.
3. While cleaning, make sure to avoid getting moisture in any openings such as aux/charging ports, button crevices or speakers/mics throughout the entire process.

If you’ve been reading this post on your laptop or PC, it’s time to shut it down and open it on your newly sanitized smartphone. Dell’s first recommended step for cleaning larger form factor devices is to turn them off, disconnect AC power and remove batteries from any peripheral devices such as wireless keyboards. Their full equipment cleaning guide can be found here, but we’ve summarized for your convenience:

Pristine PCs and Peripherals

1. Again, power your device off, unplug it and remove all batteries; also disconnect any external devices. It is recommended to wear disposable gloves during the cleaning process but that is a luxury right now, so a fresh hand wash will do.
2. Same as with your smartphone, stick to 70% isopropyl alcohol solutions, and never spray a solution directly onto your devices. Use a microfiber cloth that is lightly dampened with the solution.
3. Wipe display screens in one direction, and make sure no moisture gets into any of a device’s openings. Check that devices are completely dry before powering them back on.

Zebra Technologies, a leading enterprise mobile computing manufacturer, emphasizes that beyond consumer smartphones and one-to-one PC/laptop deployments, sanitization efforts get a bit more complicated for one-to-many mobile fleets of computers, printers, scanners and more – there is no one-size-fits-all set of best practices for disinfecting these devices. Instead, they recommend referring to their devices’ specific user manuals and how-to guides for per-model instructions on cleaning each product, and this applies to any brand of enterprise devices generally. Now is the perfect – the necessary – time for business leaders to take a deep dive into that kind of literature and leverage it to develop thorough, organization-specific best practices for cleaning devices to keep its employees safe.

One of the most critical environments for this lesson is the hospital. Zebra reports in its healthcare-focused whitepaper that “there are currently no specific published standards for cleaning and disinfecting mobile devices” in hospitals. Mobile devices are imperative to a modern and effective healthcare operation, and the COVID-19 pandemic hyperbolizes the need for its leaders to “put formal protocols in place that clearly outline responsibilities, timing, and procedures” for keeping mobile devices safe.

Disinfecting Devices in Healthcare and Enterprise Operations

1. Figure out all of the exact mobile devices/models that your frontline employees use.
2. Aggregate and review all of the user manuals and how-to literature for these devices for specific disinfecting instructions. Make these resources easily accessible for all employees to refer to, although Step 3 should minimize their need to.
3. Work with operation leaders to convert this literature into clear and concise organization-specific protocols to “outline responsibilities, timing, and procedures” for disinfecting devices, and integrate these protocols into daily workflows as a mandate.

While shared device models are implicitly less sanitary than one-to-one device-to-employee line of business deployments, they are significantly more common in enterprise environments and it is unlikely that even the current global pandemic will have much of an impact on that. The cost implications of moving away from one-to-many models are simply too great and unrealistic for business leaders to consider at this time. What may be impacted in the near term, however, and what business leaders might and should reconsider, is the use of consumer-grade equipment in demanding enterprise environments.

Enterprise-grade devices are built for harsh conditions, designed for easy and frequent sanitization and for multiple users. Consumer-grade devices by nature aren’t, and are therefore more susceptible to damages from constant cleaning and shared use. Rugged, business-grade devices may be more resilient and have a greater longevity by default, but there is still a place for consumer devices in many enterprise workflows – proper device care protocols will help extend the functional lifetime of any device type. What the moment emphasizes, though, is the need for stronger consideration of industry- and environment-specific computing equipment needs. Are the mobile units used by your clinicians designed with a high prioritization of bacteria resistance and easy sterilization? Will the shared keyboards in your warehouse weather several cleanings every day between shift changes? From handwashing protocols and regimented device cleanings to swapping out peripherals with purpose-built alternatives or considering mobile fleet changes, all options to keep employees and customers protected from infectious diseases through an enterprise mobility lens should be on the table moving forward.

To learn more, view the Enterprise Mobility & the Connected Worker Research Outline.