Person cleaning phone with microfibre cloth

How to clean up your phone

Your phone is a mess. There are apps you never use sitting on the main screen and apps you use all the time in random places. You know it’s true and you know you should do something about it – but where to start?


Choose what’s right for you with confidence

Join today and get instant access to all test results and research.

Actually clean your phone!

We swabbed the front and back of some phones and grew the results in Petri dishes. Next time you clean your phone, make sure to give the back a good wipe – it’s got just as many nasties as the front. (Top: screen, bottom: back)

You’d be disgusted if you knew how dirty your phone is. In 2015, two-thirds of New Zealanders in a Colmar Brunton poll said they were fine with using their phone on the toilet. While they may wash their hands afterwards, they certainly don’t wash their phones.

So how do you clean it?

Most manufacturers advise using a soft, slightly damp, microfibre cloth. For a more thorough clean, add a small amount of isopropyl alcohol to the water (40/60 mix). Either option will remove most of the germs from your phone. Resist using antiseptic sprays and wipes, they damage your phone screen if used too often.

If you really want to nuke any bugs (if you were unlucky enough to drop your phone in the loo), you can spray it with bleach and then wipe clean with a damp cloth. You need to leave the bleach on for roughly 30 seconds, but no longer otherwise it’ll start eating into the screen.

Get rid of unused apps

I guarantee there are apps on your phone you never use. You downloaded it thinking it’d be useful or fun, and then forgot about it. Now it just takes up space.

While you could look through every app manually and decide whether to keep it, you can save time by letting your phone do the heavy lifting. Your mobile collects info on how often you use each app, how much data it uses and how much room it takes up. You can use that to choose what to delete.

On newer Android phones, under “storage” in settings, there’s a “clean up phone” option that will give you the option to remove unused apps and unneeded files. (Note on older Android models, this feature may exist under other settings.)

If you have an iPhone, you can use the “offload unused apps” feature (settings > general > iPhone Storage). Offloading means when you’re low on storage, the phone removes the apps but keeps any associated data in case you reinstall it.

Get organised

Now you’ve cleared out what you don’t use, it’s time to tidy up the screen real estate. One of the best ways is using folders.

When you arrange your apps, hover one app over another and it’ll automatically create a folder. Folders are ideal for saving space and keeping things tidy. I keep all my messenger apps (Facebook, WhatsApp etc) in one, games in another, and so on.

If you have an Android phone your options are even greater. Not only can you make folders, but your apps can go in any spot on the screen’s grid. Moreover, you can add widgets. These are like smaller versions of apps that run on the screen without opening the full app. There are widgets that show your bank balance, what your daily calendar has in store, or just a Google search bar.

Most important apps first

I asked my Twitter followers what apps they had in the bottom row of their phones.

For the record, mine are: Messages (texts), Spotify, Twitter and Camera.

The results were more interesting than I expected: for almost every person that meticulously selected their subset of apps, there was another who hadn’t changed their set-up since they first bought a smartphone, the apps having survived the transfer to multiple new phones despite little usage.

Some confided that “I don’t even really use [app]”. I was most shocked by one person who said “can you change those ones?”

Yes, you can and you should.

Those four apps (or five, depending on the phone) are the closest to your thumb, so can be opened quickly and without stretching too far. Because they stay on every screen you never need to search for them. If one of these spaces is taken up with an app you never use, change it!

By Hadyn Green
Technology Writer