Every time I buy a new phone, I make the same mistake: I remove the old case while there are other people within a five-mile radius. The amount of gunk, weirdness, and straight-up dirt that's caught within the crevices is always a horror.
Honestly, at this point, if a fistful of dust and a screaming ghost escaped my case, I wouldn't be surprised. But when's the last time I cleaned the thing that I press up to my face and hands all day? Oh, approximately never.
That's not a great move. A 2017 study from the University of Tartu found that the cell phones of secondary school students were swarmed with 17,000 bacterial gene copies. Granted, middle school kids probably gross up their phones more than the average adult, but that's still a lot of germs, especially for an item that you probably stay in contact with day and night (my phone sits right next to my pillow while I sleep. Yes, I have problems).
Since my mom didn't teach me how to wash cell phones, earbuds, fitness trackers, or other items of the modern age, I went to sanitization and lifestyle experts for advice on how to clean up my life and all the little stuff that can't get shoved into a washing machine. And with their advice, we all can live a slightly less gross existence.
"Earbuds are one of those items you don't think to clean until you catch a glimpse of several weeks' worth of ear gunk inside. Then it's all you can think about," says Allison Bean, lifestyle expert and editorial director for The Spruce. To clean these tricky little buds, you don't need anything special, but it is a multi-step process.
For silicone-tipped buds, take off the silicone and soak those bits in warm, soapy water. "While the tips are soaking, hold the earbuds with the opening facing downward, and use a clean toothbrush to brush off any debris," Bean says. If they're extra gunky, Bean advises dipping the toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide to dissolve the wax and speed up cleaning. Just make sure you go easy with the peroxide since you don't want to drip liquid into the metallic parts of the earbuds.
If your laptop is anything like mine, it holds about as many crumbs as it does gigabytes. "Laptops undergo a lot of handling and therefore collect a surprising amount of germs in a short amount of time," Bean says. Like earbuds, laptops aren't hard to clean, but you need a little patience to do a thorough job.
First of all, turn off your laptop and unplug it. There are very safe ways to clean your computer, and there's no reason to risk electric shock. Secondly, put equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle, says Marieta Ivanova, cleaning and home improvement expert for Fantastic Cleaners Brisbane. Spray a bit of the solution onto a cotton rag (so that it's damp but not dripping) and wipe down all surfaces, including the screen. "If you're worried about the vinegar smell, you can add one or two drops of soap as well," Ivanova says.
Though water and electronic devices sound scary, this tiny amount of liquid won't cause a short or harm your device. Just make sure the rag is barely damp and feel free to use a microfiber towel to grab even more dirt and debris with less liquid.
If your screen just needs a quick dusting, Leanne Stapf, vice president of operations at The Cleaning Authority, recommends using coffee filters. "They are perfect for clearing dust from TV screens, computer monitors, and any other screens around the home without leaving behind any fibers like towels do." Since screens get dusty fast, coffee filters are great for a quick dust between antibacterial cleanings.
For the keyboard, you have a few options. You can use compressed air to give your keys a spray to free any crumbs and dirt, Bean says. A vacuum with small, detachable hose works great too. If you'd like a deeper clean, "a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol (you'll likely need more than one) is the perfect size to get in-between each key," Bean says. Or, if you long for the days of Nickelodeon Gak, you can use a keyboard cleaning gel like this one: The ooze sneaks into all the keyboard crevices and seems equally gross and satisfying.
How do you get those 17,000 germs off your phone? The easiest way is to use a little dish soap and water.
"Screens are way too delicate for applying strong chemical products or using abrasive materials for cleaning," Ivanova says. "So when you're at home, use a cleaning solution of milder dish soap (preferably an eco-friendly one) and water." Add this solution to a soft cloth (again, make it just barely damp) and give your phone a gentle wash. Ivanova adds that disinfecting wipes will also work if you need a quick cleanse in a pinch.
Bean suggests using a 1:1 mixture of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol to clean your cell. Spray the solution on a microfiber cloth and wash away, then use cotton swabs and toothpicks to get into all the nooks and crannies.
For both cleaning techniques, the experts suggest cleaning your mobile at least once a week. And be sure to let the phone dry completely after every wash.
Or if you've stashed your phone in rice too many times after aqua accidents, you can use a waterless UV cleaning device: A sanitizer like the PhoneSoap kills 99.9 percent of bacteria and you never have to pick up a washcloth.
Whichever method you choose, remember to take off the case before cleaning, otherwise, you'll leave most of the gross stuff on the phone.
4. Remote Control
Have you ever thought about cleaning your remote control? Honestly, I thought that kind of cleanliness was reserved for the Martha Stewarts of the world, but according to a study from the Hygiene Council (via WebMD), the remote control is the 28th dirtiest thing in your house. That might not sound too scary, but it comes only one place below toilet flush handle on the dirty list. Since the remote is something you put your hands on day after day, it makes sense.
Thankfully, cleaning isn't too hard. "Taking the remote control apart to remove dust and other things isn't really a good idea because there's no guarantee that you'll be able to put it back the right way," Ivanova says. Instead, use a blend of vinegar and water or water and rubbing alcohol to clean the exterior. Spray the mixture on a cloth, then use the cloth to remove the many, many bacterial strains. To get between the buttons, add a toothbrush to the mix to scrub in all the little crevices, Ivanova advises.
5. Metal/Reusable Straws
"The no-straw movement has certainly increased the use of metal and reusable straws," Bean says. "Luckily, there's an easy way to keep them clean so you can continue to drink your smoothies every morning without worry." Grab a tiny bottle brush or pipe cleaner and clean the inside of the straw using hot water and dish soap. Many reusable straws come with tiny brushes to make this even easier.
If you lost the little brush or have trouble finding one at the store, Ivanova recommends using a wooden skewer and cotton ball. Tear the cotton ball into a straw appropriate size, then use the skewer to move it through the straw. It's not as easy as using a brush, but it gets the job done in a pipe cleaner-less scenario.
Bean suggests washing the straw after every use and letting it dry completely. "Small traces of water is all it takes to permit bacteria growth," Bean says. If you don't get a chance to wash the straw after every drink (you're human), try not to go more than two days without a little scrub.
6. Phone/Computer Chargers
Guess what else you touch almost as much as your phone? Your phone charger. I know I always have one rattling around in the bottom of my purse—and who knows what kind of germ-filled terrors are in there.
For chargers, the cleaning solution is easy: disinfectant wipes. Ivanova recommends wiping down the chargers and cords about once a week. Make sure the wipe is on the drier side ("soaking wet" and "things that plug into electrical sockets" aren't a great mix), but the quick-drying alcohol of the disinfectant will keep your chargers safe and nearly bacteria free.
It's best to replace your toothbrush (or head of the brush, if you have the electric kind) every three to four months. Before that, Stapf recommends cleaning your brush every week. Let it soak in a cup of antibacterial mouthwash for pretty much effortless cleaning. If you don't have mouthwash, a soak in a mixture of water (2 cups), baking soda (1-2 tablespoons), and vinegar (1-2 tablespoons) will work just as well, according to Ivanova.
To wash the base of an electric toothbrush (which gets shockingly yellow and dirty, in my experience), Ivanova says you can use the same vinegar, baking soda, and water mix. Just apply it to a soft cloth and give it a light scrub. Use a cotton swab to get a more detailed clean.
As with all electronics, make sure the toothbrush base is unplugged before you whip out your homemade cleaning solution.
8. Fitness Trackers
Whenever you wear something on your wrist every day (even if you ignore the readings—how could I only have 5,000 steps today?! Come on, FitBit!), it gets filled with sweat, germs, and skin flakes. Aren't our bodies delightful?
Anyway, Ivanova suggests that elastomer devices (like FitBit) should be washed with just a bit of warm water. Use a toothbrush for a deeper clean, but adding any kind of soap might damage the mechanism.
If you have a metal or leather band on your tracker, simply use a damp cloth. Wrist-based trackers are less likely to be havens for germs, so by removing the daily dirt and sweat from the band, the device stays clean. You don't need any heavy antibacterial solutions for this one.
9. Nose Pads on Glasses
For the non-bespectacled among us, nose pads on glasses might not seem like a big deal. "Just wipe them down!" you'd cry. But nose pads are a surprising trap for all things disgusting.
When I was a kid (I've had glasses since I was five), I'd look at my nose pads and see practically a petri dish of mold and mystery growing inside. Since your glasses rub up against skin, sweat, and all your usual face bacteria, it's easy for that stuff to get trapped inside the little silicone pads.
For removable silicone pads, Ivanova recommends taking the pads off and cleaning them with cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. Sometimes, dish soap will do the trick, though rubbing alcohol is best for the moldier situation.
In some cases, you might have to get new nose pads. You can buy them without getting new glasses, and it's usually pretty affordable. Even if you don't wear daily glasses, if you have silicone nose pads on your sunglasses, give them a look. You might be surprised. (And you probably need to bust out the rubbing alcohol.)
10. Hard-Brimmed Hats
When it comes to cloches, baseball caps, or cowboy hats, I never wear them long enough to get them dirty. Usually, I give them one try in the winter and realize my head is weird, and the hat goes back in the closet. But for people without weird heads, it can be hard to know how to clean these chapeaus. You can't just put them in the wash, so how do you remove the sweat buildup?
Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, the brand editor at House Method, says that baseball caps should be cleaned with cold water to prevent the color from fading. The cold water method is best for other hard-brimmed hats as well. Just let the hat soak in a mixture of cold water and gentle detergent (she recommends Seventh Generation). After about two hours, unless the hat is crazy dirty, give it a quick rinse, and let it air dry completely.
11. Light Switches
Remember that fun list of filthy stuff in your house? Well, light switches beat remote controls in the dirty department. For example, the bathroom light switch is only a tiny bit cleaner than your toilet seat.
I've been scared to clean light switches since they have the most direct connection to an electrical line that can kill me, but it turns out that I'm being far too cautious. Ivanova insists that cleaning switchplates isn't dangerous at all as long as you don't overdo it on the cleaning solution.
She recommends using a mix of equal parts water, vinegar, and a couple drops of tea tree oil to disinfect the surface. Spray this onto a cotton cloth, make sure the cloth is just barely damp, and wipe away. If the switch is extra dirty, you may want to add a bit of rubbing alcohol to the mix, Ivanova says.
Though our homes are full of overlooked, disgusting things, cleaning them is surprisingly easy. With a little vinegar and patience, you can turn your home from germ factory to clean dream in less than a day.
Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing a Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @Ambernpetty.