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ONLY ON KOLD: Putting gadget cleaners to the test

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University of Arizona students let us swab their smartphones for germs. University of Arizona students let us swab their smartphones for germs.
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Pop quiz: What's a germ-ridden object you carry around with you and use all time?

If you said your smartphone or tablet, you're correct!

One study revealed your smartphone could be dirtier than a toilet seat. So how do you get rid of those germs?

There are lots of products on the market that claim to disinfect phones. But do they work and are they worth the cost? Tucson News Now put them to the test.

University of Arizona students let us swab their smartphones for germs, and they were shocked when they saw the results.

All the bacteria on her smartphone worried student Xandy Peterson.

"I use it for everything, and I have it in bed with me and I eat with it next to me, so I think my exposure is high," Peterson said.

What do they use to try to clean off this microscopic gunk?

"My idea of cleaning my phone is wiping it on my shirt or my pants," college student Koyia Tuttle said.

That may not be the best way to kill germs, but we took a closer look at those specialized hygiene products you can purchase.

Peterson and her classmates let us use their devices to try the products that claim to disinfect or sanitize electronics. We worked with microbiology professor Charles Gerba, a top researcher on mobile equipment and the spread of germs from the University of Arizona. Together we tested how these products tackled bacteria.

"With mobile equipment we've made more germs more mobile today. They can move around," Gerba said.

A product called PhoneKleen Wipes claim to disinfect cell phones, and they cost about $20 a box. But do they work?

"They reduced the number of bacteria to an undetectable level," Gerba said.

The Cleanwell Disinfectant Spray says it kills 99.99 percent of germs. In our test it got rid of 95.5 percent to the tune of $8 a canister.

"The spray solution seemed to eliminate the number of bacteria very readily from the surface," Gerba said.

We also tried out UV light cleaners. The Portable UV Disinfector says it kills 99 percent of germs. It sells for around $10 so we tried to tackle the dirtiest phone of the bunch with it. Our test showed it reduced about 73 percent of germs.

The more expensive Clean Wave Sanitizing Wand, which runs about $40, makes the same claim. Gerba said it reduced the germs down to zero.

"I was surprised that all of them seemed to work fairly well in reducing the number of germs on the phones," Gerba said.

While getting germs off your phone is important, experts say you have to be sure not to wreck it in the process. Electronics expert Todd Hasleton says be careful with things like sprays and wipes.

"You could accidentally get liquid inside the headphone jack, which would ruin your audio experience inside the speakers; get liquid inside the speakers, inside the microphone, in which case nobody would be able to hear you on the phone. Or you could get it inside of the charging port, which could fry your electronic completely," Hasleton said.

As for the college students, some who used to use their clothes to clean their phones, may be opting for more sterile methods.

"I'm definitely going to do things differently in regard to cleaning my phone," Peterson said.

As for whether you need to shell out cash for a specialized product, we also tested how well a simple microfiber cloth gets rid of germs. On the phone we used, the cloth actually got rid of all the bacteria. However, Gerba points out the key is to always use a clean cloth.

Soon, phones may be germ resistant and easier to clean. Electronics expert Hasleton says some phones in development will have anti-microbial covers and will be water resistant.

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