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Controlling Spread of Germs on Handheld Devices

As this blog is being written, the thought occurs that our mobile phones are filthy devices. From the start we are taught the importance of washing your hands thoroughly, covering your mouth when you cough (now coughing into the elbow is more appropriate), and refrain from touching  your eyes, nose or mouth.  Remember reading an article about the dirtiest thing in your bathroom being the doorknob? An “aha’ moment for some, and the realization of how easily bacteria can spread from one surface to another. 

Fast forward to COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus (nothing to do with Corona beer, thank goodness), with the number of positive cases in the U.S. at over 4,000 at the time of this post. Businesses are temporarily closing or reducing hours of operation, restrictions are being placed in cities and towns to control large gatherings, and “social distancing” is the latest craze.  While we try to get our arms around this thing (pardon the pun), we are motivated to keep our schedules as normal as possible and business on track.  So how do workers in a busy warehouse or manufacturing facility reduce their risk?  By keeping hands and devices clean. 

I washed my hands, now what?
It’s been drilled into us to wash our hands often, but what about the devices we use throughout the workday?  Particularly the ones that touch many hands over the course of several shifts.  Practices and protocols for cleaning (and in some applications, disinfecting) mobile devices to limit the spread of bacteria are important to understand and follow.

If we’re not diligent about properly cleaning or disinfecting the devices we use, regardless of whether the devices are desktop barcode label printers, handheld barcode scanners, rugged tablets or mobile computers, there’s a high risk that a device carrying bacteria can send a chain reaction through a warehouse in a matter of days when multiple users are sharing them.

So back to the idea of giving your mobile phone a good scrub down – a recent study published in Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials was conducted to determine the contamination rate of mobile devices (phones in this case).  Approximately 94.5% of the devices presented with bacterial growth, with 89.5% of study participants admitting they never cleaned their phones.

Cleaning Devices Under Normal Conditions

The CDC recommends cleaning a device regularly with a damp microfiber cloth to eliminate a number of variants of bacteria; however, a more stringent regimen is needed to remove dangerous and longer-lasting strains. Disinfecting a device further eliminates harmful bacteria, and with that the CDC recommends after an enterprise device has been cleaned 5 times, it should be disinfected.  This 5-to-1 rule limits the amount of times it’s disinfected, minimizing contact with harsh chemicals that can dry out and crack the housing material on the device, yet still helps to remove harmful bacteria. However, some devices are sensitive to the chemicals contained in disinfectants, so referring to manufacturer guidelines is advised. Disinfecting devices during the COVID-19 pandemic may take on a different regimen.  Please contact the manufacturer or authorized reseller of your product for additional recommendations.

Cautions About Cleaning Handheld Devices

A handheld scanner, for example, can be properly cleaned with standard household items.  The recommendation from Honeywell on their handheld imagers is that the housing be cleaned with a soft, microfiber cloth dampened with water (or a mild detergent-water solution.) If a detergent solution is used, be sure to rinse with a clean tissue dampened with water only.  If the scan window is visibly dirty, clean the window with one of the cleaning solutions listed in this Honeywell datasheet.  Never use solvents such as acetone on the housing or window. Solvents may damage the finish or the window.

There are special configurations of handheld scanning devices (like the Enhanced Xenon 1900h & 1902h Healthcare Scanners from Honeywell) available with a plastic housing designed to resist the effects of harsh chemicals. The plastic used for the housing is crystalline in nature, which helps prevent chemicals from absorbing into the material and causing it dry out, crack and get brittle.  However, they are not resistant to all cleaning agents, so it’s worth noting that following the cleaning instructions in your user’s guide is the best practice to follow since damage caused by cleaners used other than those listed in the datasheet may not be covered by the warranty.

Suggested Practices for Healthier Devices

  • Frequent cleaning (using a microfiber cloth dampened with water)
  • Follow manufacturer guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting devices that are not equipped with disinfectant-ready housing
  • For harsh environments prone to excessive amounts of bacteria, choose a device that offers an IP (ingress protection) rating of 65 which means the device can be more resistant to dust and water sprays
  • Practice clean hands on a clean device

For more information on how to keep your Honeywell devices as clean as they can be, please refer to your user guide under “cleaning instructions” or visit their cleaning guidelines page.

For more information on how to keep your Zebra devices clean and safe for every employee, please refer to the user guide for your device under “cleaning instructions” or refer to this Zebra blog article.


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Phone (423) 855-1822 | Fax (423) 499-6317



BARCOM, INC.  •  •  423-855-1822