As concerns about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, reach a fever pitch, it’s more important than ever to do your part in beating back the spread. One effective countermeasure is what experts call social distancing—turning down event invites, cancelling non-essential travel, and, if feasible, working from home.
But the single best thing you can do to combat the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands pretty much all the time. When you come in from the outside world, wash your hands. Before you eat, wash your hands. Before you wash your hands, wash your hands, and then wash them again.
This practice also applies to the stuff you touch with your hands, and your gaming gear is no exception. Controllers, handhelds, even TV remotes—in these trying times, the whole lot should be disinfected regularly. Look: If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can sanitise subway stations on a nightly basis, you can do the same for your Switch.
Still, that doesn’t mean you should haphazardly pour Purell on the thing. When it comes to cleaning your tech, you need to do so safely and effectively. The last thing you want is to inadvertently destroy a perfectly good product because you didn’t read the fine print. Here’s how best to disinfect your gear.
First, let’s go over what not to do
Last week, as spotted by the Wall Street Journal, Apple quietly updated its cleaning guidelines. For years, the tech giant maintained a hard line against using disinfectant wipes on their products. That’s officially changed. The revised guidelines aren’t gaming-specific, but they’re tech-focused, and offer some helpful advice nonetheless.
For starters, don’t spray cleaner directly on any product. Also, before cleaning anything, you should do what you can to cut off electric charge to the thing you want to clean. Liquid and electronics don’t mix well, and you run the risk—however slight—of causing an electric shock. Unplug any controllers from USB-C or micro-USB cables. Remove batteries from anything that still uses batteries, like Xbox One controllers. And completely turn off any consoles. (Here’s how to fully power down a Switch, by the way, rather than simply putting it to sleep.)
Finally—and this should go without saying—never, ever, ever submerge an electronic item in any liquid.
OK, here’s what you should do
The first thing you need to know is that not all cleaners are disinfectants. Standard-issue Windex might make your mirrors and windows sparkle, but it won’t do much for killing germs. To do so, you’d need to get a multipurpose Windex that’s plainly marked as a disinfectant. Generally, the bottles that say “kills 99.9 per cent of germs” fall under that umbrella. Any products that don’t have that label are most likely mere cleaners.
As mentioned earlier, you want to avoid spraying any liquid directly onto your electronics. By spraying directly, you have less control over how much liquid comes out. You also run the risk of getting liquid into charging ports or other openings, which can cause serious damage to the guts of your gear. Instead, spray a bit of disinfectant onto a soft cloth, or use a disinfecting wipe.
Of course, certain brands, like Clorox, have sold out at many retailers. If you don’t have any wipes or cleaners on hand, you can make a substitute yourself fairly easily. All you need is a bottle of approved hydrogen peroxide and some soft paper towels. (Abrasive paper towels can damage any touchscreens.) You want your makeshift wipe to be damp, not dripping wet. According to testing conducted by Good Housekeeping, Viva paper towels are the most absorbent option on the market. Hold a twice-folded paper towel over the lid and slowly pour liquid out.
When it comes to actually cleaning your stuff, you needn’t rigorously scrub or rub down surfaces, like you would a kitchen counter or bathroom door knob. In fact, according to Apple’s advice, excessive scrubbing can cause damage to any machine. The folks at Lysol say that you need only swab the surface. Your goal should simply be to get the surface just wet enough so the disinfectant can do its thing. This is why you want wipes to be damp, rather than wet. A gentle swabbing should do the trick.
To clean those hard-to-reach spots, like the rivets on a thumbstick or the edges of a D-pad, wrap a wipe around the edge of a Q-Tip. This will give you laser precision for even the most frustrating parts.
Maybe you’ve heard a figure thrown around that says surfaces should stay wet for 30 seconds for disinfectants to do their work. That’s not exactly true. How long a disinfectant has to stay on a surface varies from product to product. For instance, Nugen’s 2M Disinfectant Wipes need two minutes to work, while Austin’s A-1 Ultra Disinfecting Bleach needs about 10 minutes—though you shouldn’t be using bleach to clean gaming gear anyway. Consult the EPA’s list to learn the exact amount of time you need to leave a surface wet for full results. It may mean having to reapply disinfectant, but, in the name of good health, hey, what’s a few extra minutes?
Now your gaming stuff is squeaky-clean. Unless it’s perma-stained with orange Cheeto dust. Then we can’t help you.