Scientists highly encourage cleaning your smartwatch.

Scientists highly encourage cleaning your smartwatch.

The Dirty Truth About Smartwatch Bands and How to Keep Them Clean

Dirty Smartwatch Photo by Andy Boxall / ENBLE

In the era of smartphones, it’s no secret that these devices can get incredibly dirty. Research has shown that smartphones can be ten times dirtier than a toilet seat, and microbial infections are a significant concern. But what about our other everyday personal devices, like smartwatches and fitness bands? A recent study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University reveals that nearly 95% of wearable straps are contaminated with various forms of bacteria.

The study, published in the Advances in Infectious Diseases journal, focused on different types of band materials and their levels of bacterial contamination. Rubber- and plastic-based bands were found to harbor the highest degree of contamination, while metal-based bands, particularly those with gold and silver components, showed the lowest bacterial activity. The researchers also noted that the extent of bacterial load varied based on gender and occupation.

To conduct their study, the team analyzed bands made from rubber, plastic, fabrics, leather, and metal worn by individuals in various professions, ranging from desk jobs to firefighting and veterinary work. Gym-goers and veterinary experts had the highest concentration of different pathogenic species living on their bands and straps.

Interestingly, some companies claim that their bands have antibacterial properties. However, Nwadiuto Esiobu, a senior researcher at Florida Atlantic University, cautions that while antibacterial materials may provide a short-term kill, they can also contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

The study identified Staphylococci, Pseudomonads, and Enterobacteriaceae as the most common pathogens found on smartwatch bands. Staphylococci is an opportunistic pathogen that can cause blood-related infections, leading to substantial medical expenses. Another strain, s. aureus, has been linked to blood clotting, endocarditis, and organ failure. Plastic and rubber bands had the highest concentration of Staphylococcus-class bacteria, while metal bands had little to no bacteria. Pseudomonas aeuginosa, a pathogen responsible for urinary tract infections, thrived on rubber and plastic bands. The most worrying finding was the presence of Escherichia Coli, a fecal-oral infection-related bacterium predominantly found on plastic and rubber bands.

The study explains that porous and static surfaces, such as those of rubber and plastic bands, provide an ideal breeding ground for pathogens. In contrast, metals inhibit bacterial enzymes on their surfaces, leading to the gradual elimination of bacteria. This makes metal bands a safer option in terms of bacterial contamination. Despite being slightly more expensive, metallic straps offer both safety and a more sophisticated aesthetic.

Apple Watch Photo by Andy Boxall / ENBLE

To protect ourselves from harmful pathogens, it’s crucial to clean our smartwatch bands regularly. The study tested various cleaning solutions and found that Lysol Disinfectant Spray and 70% Ethanol were highly effective, reducing bacterial counts in just 30 seconds. Apple cider vinegar, while still effective, required 2 minutes of exposure to get the job done.

Different smartwatch brands use a range of materials for their bands, including leather, stainless steel, silicone, and thermoplastic. It’s important to choose the correct cleaning fluid based on the strap material to achieve the best results without causing any damage. Apple and Samsung, for example, recommend using specific cleaning methods for their bands, including isopropyl alcohol wipes or disinfectant wipes.

One telltale sign that it’s time to clean your band is an unpleasant odor emanating from it. This odor is a result of bacteria fermentation, rather than the odorless sebum secreted by humans.

Ticwatch Pro 5 Photo by Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic (left) and Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro 5 Andy Boxall / ENBLE

In addition to commercial cleaning solutions, there are also household items that can help with pathogenic growth. Nail polish remover, quaternary ammonium soaps, and lemon juice can be effective to a certain extent. However, caution must be exercised with lemon juice to prevent discoloration of certain types of bands. It’s essential to avoid using bleach or other harsh chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, as they can damage the bands.

For those without access to commercial cleaning chemicals, apple cider vinegar can serve as a suitable alternative. Soaking the bands in vinegar for at least 2 minutes effectively eliminates microbes.

In conclusion, smartwatch bands are magnets for bacteria and other harmful pathogens. The type of band material plays a significant role in bacterial contamination, with rubber and plastic bands being the most prone. Metal bands offer a safer option due to their antibacterial properties. Regularly cleaning the bands using appropriate methods and cleaning fluids is essential for maintaining good hygiene. By taking these measures, you can enjoy your smartwatch without worrying about the invisible germs lurking on your wrist.