Why you should stop using your phone in the bathroom

You should probably stop bringing your phone into the bathroom with you, because there’s more growing on it than you think, says Anne Bialachowski, manager of infection control at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton.

Mobile devices can be breeding ground for pathogens, doctor with Hamilton's St. Joseph's Healthcare says

Anne Bialachowski, the manager of infection control at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, runs tests for pathogens on a cell phone. 1:06

You should probably stop bringing your phone into the bathroom with you, because there’s more growing on it than you think. 

Anne Bialachowski, manager of infection control at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, was testing smartphones and tablets at St. Joseph's on Monday as part of World Hand Hygiene Day, and found that some devices were more than just grimy.

It’s probably not a good idea to take your phone into the bathroom with you.- Anne Bialachowski, manager of infection control at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton

Using an ATP test, which measures organic material that gets left behind on surfaces, Bialachowski found some phones and tablets had scads of things living on them — that organic material could be anything from fecal matter and E. coli, to the virus that causes the flu.

“It’s pathogens — so things that we worry about daily,” Bialachowski told CBC Hamilton. “And no, it’s probably not a good idea to take your phone into the bathroom with you.”

A clean reading on the ATP test is a score of 30, but some of the devices swabbed at St. Joseph's had readings of over 100 — one person’s cellphone even had a reading of 400.

It’s hard to say exactly what part the rise of hand-held devices has played in the spread of pathogens, as few studies have been conducted on the issue, Bialachowski says. But it has added a new level of concern at hospitals, she adds. “With every new example of technology, it adds a layer of intricacy to our work."

According to a U.K.-wide study by scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Topical Medicine and Queen Mary University of London, one in six mobile phones in Britain was contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Fecal bacteria and viruses like the flu can survive on someone’s hands and on surfaces for hours at a pop, especially in warm temperatures away from sunlight.

Pathogens like C. difficile can even live on a device for days, Bialachowski says.

And if people really want to use their phone as a replacement for a magazine or bathroom reader, you should get into the habit of wiping it down with a cloth after washing your hands, she says. A test with a simple dry cloth also performed at the hospital removed most problem germs.

But stay away from chemicals and sprays — they’re generally harmful for electronics.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.