Yes, you can wash your iPhone with soap and water

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washing iPhone with soap and water
It's fine to wash newer iPhones with soap and water.
Photo: Leander Kahney / Cult of Mac

Thanks to abject terror of the COVID-19 virus, I’ve started washing my iPhone along with my hands with ordinary soap and water.

It may prove to be a big mistake, but so far it’s fine. My iPhone 11 Pro Max is highly water-resistant and seems quite happy being soaped down a couple of times a day.

Washing my iPhone has become an essential part of my anti-COVID-19 hand-washing routine. I’ve started washing my hands carefully, especially after going out in public and returning home or to the office. But I realized that after diligently washing my hands for 20 or 30 seconds, I’d immediately pick up my iPhone, only to possibly recontaminate my hands again.

Per expert instructions, handwashing with soap for 20 or 30 seconds breaks down and kills the coronavirus. Like all coronaviruses, the COVID-19 pathogen is an “enveloped” virus, which means it has an outer envelope of lipid, or fat. This lipid envelope is easily dissolved by ordinary soap, which then kills the virus.

Wash your hands, and your iPhone

As conditions in China slowly improve, the COVID-19 virus is worsening in the United States. In San Francisco, where I live, the novel coronavirus is proliferating via community transmission, an infected cruise boat is circling off the coast, conferences are being cancelled left and right, and schools are starting to close. It’s making me very anxious. The fear is growing and while medical experts say your chances of getting it are small, I can’t help but wonder if and when I or my family will become the next victim.

So along with my hands, I’m now washing my phone, and encouraging everyone in my family to do the same.

According to the Journal of Hospital Infection, coronaviruses “can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days.” The virus can be “efficiently inactivated” with a wipe down with disinfectants like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, but Apple cautions against using strong cleaning solutions that might damage your iPhone’s anti-fingerprint oleophobic screen coating.

Apple suggests that for cleaning the phone, you use soapy water on a lint-free cloth. I’m taking it one stage further.

iPhone water-resistance ratings

If you have an iPhone 7 or later, you’re likely okay as well. Every iPhone released since the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are rated as IP67, which means they are resistant to splashes and can be submerged in three feet of fresh water for up to 30 minutes.

The iPhone 8, 8 Plus, X, and XR are also rated IP67. But subsequent models — the iPhone XS, XS Max, and now the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max — all have a water resistance rating of IP68, which means they can survive a dunking in six feet of fresh water for 30 minutes. Here’s the full list from Apple.

Note, however, that according to Apple, water-resistant isn’t the same as waterproof. Your iPhone can still be damaged by water, especially if the internal gaskets and seals around the Lightning port and SIM card slot have started to degrade, which can happen over time.

But there are tons of reports of iPhones surviving longer periods underwater. Last year, a team of divers found a working iPhone X that had been at the bottom of a lake for a couple of days.

With AppleCare+ up to two water damage accidents are covered, but you may be required to pay an extra fee for a repair.

I wash my iPhone and its case (a nice leather case from Woolnut), a couple of times a day, and according to a Twitter search, I’m far from alone. Scores of people are washing their iPhones in the sink, and it all seems perfectly fine. I’ve even scrubbed down my iPhone in the shower.

The only thing I’m careful of is the Lightning port, which can get full of water. Apple recommends removing excess water by tapping your iPhone against the palm of your hand. If there’s still water in the charging port, you might get an onscreen warning that charging is disabled. In that case, just use a wireless Qi-certified charger.

Of course, your mileage may vary. Disclaimer: proceed at your own risk!