We Tested Our Phones For Germs And Found Some Disgusting Shit

2. Hi!
I’m Caroline and I have a weird obsession with germs and

Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed


I also have an incubator hidden in our DIY studio where I
sometimes grow germs for projects. I’m genuinely
surprised none of my coworkers have reported me to HR

ID: 8629883

3. Humans
are covered in germs and most of them are harmless, but the
pathogenic ones can make us really sick.

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Germs include bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and fungi and
they exist everywhere. Actually, everyone has a specific
bacterial ~flora~ (germ profile) on their skin and inside
their bodies, so germs are totally natural. Research shows
that exposure to germs, especially as a kid, can actually
help boost your immune system and maintain good gut

But you should avoid pathogens — which are different
from normal germs. A pathogen is any bacteria, virus, or
other organism that causes disease or infections. Think: E.
coli, salmonella, Ebola, bird flu, etc. You can generally
avoid these by washing your hands and maintaining proper
hygiene — especially in the bathroom, kitchen, and public

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4. Given
that my coworkers are glued to their phones, I wanted to
find out what kind of germs they were carrying around.

Given that my coworkers are glued to their phones, I wanted to find out what kind of germs they were carrying around.

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Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

BuzzFeeders are pretty much never without their phones, and
we’re also probably not cleaning them as much as we should

So I decided it would be fun (for me at least) to find out
what kind of gross stuff is living on our screens and
cases. I also wanted to see if a person’s lifestyle or
phone habits might affect which germs were on their phone,
or if basically all of them would just be disgusting.

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5. So I
surprised 20 people in the lobby on a Monday morning and
tested their phones because I’m literally the worst.

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed


The element of surprise was necessary so that people had
no time to prepare or clean their phones once they agreed
to let me test them.

I used a special swab kit with a long q-tip that breaks
off into a tube filled with liquid, which preserves the
germs until they go onto a petri dish where they can
grow. First I got the swab wet with some of the liquid in
the tube so it picked up everything (no matter how crusty
or dry). Then I swabbed every inch of the phone — no
button or corner was spared.

After swabbing, I sent out a questionnaire asking them
where they bring their phone, how they clean it, whether
they get sick often, etc. I hoped their answers would
allow me to find patterns or common habits among the
people who had the germiest or the cleanest phones.

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6. Next,
we sent the samples to a microbiology lab at Columbia
University Medical Center.

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed


We teamed up with an awesome researcher,
Dr. Susan Whittier and the microbiology lab at New
York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in
New York City.

Whittier transferred the swabs onto agar, a nutrient
medium which feeds the germs so they can live in petri
dishes. We waited three days so the germs had time to
grow and ~thrive~ until they were visible to the naked
eye. Then Whittier tested the samples to find out exactly
which kinds of bacteria, fungi, and molds were living on
each person’s phone.

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7. The
researcher was legitimately shocked by how many germs were
on our phones.

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed


“I went into it thinking probably 50% of the plates would
grow something, so I was really shocked when 100% of the
phone cultures grew a lot of germs,” Whittier says. I,
however, wasn’t shocked, because as I said before
my coworkers are never without their phones.

Just to clarify, Whittier tested for quantity and type of
bacteria, fungus, and mold. She didn’t test for
viruses, like flus or STIs. And considering the amount of
bacteria that was found, we kind of don’t even want to
know about viruses.

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9. First
up, the harmless bacteria. Most phones tested positive for
these five kinds of germs from the skin, mouth, nose, and
the environment.

First up, the harmless bacteria. Most phones tested positive for these five kinds of germs from the skin, mouth, nose, and the environment.

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Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

Staphylococcus epidermis (not aureus): If you were
to just swab your skin directly, this is what you’d find,
Whittier says. Staph epidermis bacteria is totally normal
and it would get on the phone from regular daily use like
touching or talking on it.

Micrococcus: This makes up the normal skin flora,
especially on the face, Whittier says. Everyone has
different skin bacteria, and some people have either more
micrococcus or staph but it depends on the person. It can
get on your phone if you touch your face a lot or talk on
it often.

Streptococcus Viridans: Strep viridans lives in
the mouth and throat, so it’ll get on your phone from
talking or from your fingers after touching your lips,
coughing, etc. It’s usually harmless, but it can also
cause infections at very high levels in vulnerable people
and can rarely pass from the mouth to the genitals to
cause UTIs.

Moraxella: This is from sinuses and it’s often
found in people with recurrent sinusitis or post-nasal
drip. It isn’t as common as strep and in high levels it
can cause inner ear and bloodstream infections in
children and immunocompromised people, says Whittier.
It’s still a pretty normal thing to find on a phone.

Bacillus: Bacillus is a very common bacteria from
the environment, so it’s basically a sign that you’ve
been outdoors. A lot of bacillus means the phone is super
dirty, but not with anything that will make you sick —
just literal dirt. It could get on a phone if it’s been
outside or from touching surfaces before your phone.

Why does each plate look so different if most of them
have the same five non-pathogenic bacteria?
person has different bacteria on their skin and inside
their bodies, some have more of certain types than others.
So each germ culture is kind of like a unique ‘germ
fingerprint,’” Whittier says.

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10. I
thought this one was really pretty and I wanted to take it
home — which was 100% not allowed because that’s a

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed


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11. Some
of the phones had actual pathogens, which was a
little alarming.

Remember, pathogens are potentially disease-causing strains
of bacteria. So, yeah, we had these, too.

Scroll down and slide over each picture to reveal the

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12. Like
this one, which is nicknamed “Superbug.”

What it is: MRSA is a staphylococcus aureus bacteria
which is resistant to many antibiotics, including
methicillin. MRSA can cause very serious infections in the
skin and internal organs, and can sometimes be fatal in
vulnerable people. It can spread easily between people and
surfaces — often in healthcare settings — but you usually
have to have an open wound or a suppressed immune system for
it to get that bad.

What it means: “It’s a little worrisome for a phone to
test positive for MRSA because it isn’t part of our normal
flora, but a small part of the population can carry it in
their nose or mouth without any problems,” Whittier
explained. We also know that MRSA loves to lurk on gym
equipment and locker rooms, so it’s not completely abnormal
to have it on your phone. “The potential for a little MRSA on
a phone to cause disease in a healthy person is very low,”
says Whittier. And don’t worry, this person disinfected their
phone as soon as they found out.

ID: 8628935

13. Or this
bacteria, which is responsible for staph infections and toxic
shock syndrome.

What it is: Staphylococcus aureus is a group of
pathogenic staph bacteria which can cause a bunch of
different diseases and infections. They can live on the skin
or in the respiratory tract and nose — and about half the
population carries staph aureus with no problems. But this
also makes it easy to spread between people and cause

It can also live on surfaces, like subway handles, door
knobs, community bathrooms and showers, and especially gyms.
“It’s important to wipe down gym equipment with antibacterial
wipes before and after you use it and put your phone on a
paper towel first to avoid picking up staph and MRSA,”
Whittier says.

What it means: It’s a bit concerning, says Whittier,
because if staph aureus gets into an open wound it can cause
major skin and blood infections which can result in boils,
food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome, and even death. But,
again, some people can carry it with no problem.

OH P.S. the staph aureus was actually found on my phone and I
only tested it for fun BUT THIS WAS NOT FUN.

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14. Or this
one, which is really ~shitty~.

What it is: I mean, basically poop. You’ve probably
heard of E. coli from restaurant outbreaks and supermarket
food recalls. It’s a fecal organism, so it’s usually found in
poop but it can also live in the gastrointestinal tract along
with other gut bacteria. There are different types, and some
strains are way more pathogenic than other ones, but it has
the potential to cause serious food poisoning and death.
Infections spread through the fecal-oral route, so you’ll get
sick if you touch your mouth with contaminated hands after
using the bathroom or touching fecal matter.

What it means: “E. coli on a phone could be from the
person’s stool if they didn’t wash their hands or another
person’s stool if the phone went into a public bathroom
because fecal matter sprays everywhere when the toilet
flushes,” Whittier says. This is why you
shouldn’t bring your phone to the bathroom or use it
while eating. Interestingly enough, the guy who had this on
his phone actually got sick from a burrito contaminated with
E. coli a month ago — so it made sense.

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15. And
this not-so-fun little fungus:

What it is: Two phones tested positive for a type of
yeast, called candida albicans. It’s definitely not the kind
you use to bake bread. “It’s not a very common skin germ and
it has the potential to be pathogenic and cause things like
thrush or yeast infections in immunocompromised patients or
babies,” Whittier says.

What it means: If it’s on a cellphone it probabaly
isn’t enough to make a healthy person sick. “If you are
immunocompetent and aren’t prone to infections, yeast on your
hands or phone isn’t likely to cause any problems,” says
Whittier. It’s easy to
clean off with a diluted alcohol solution.

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16. So
this is us, sharing our office with lots of fun,
potentially disease-causing bacteria. Cool.

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17. BUT
the researcher assured us that our office isn’t a biohazard
and we aren’t all about to die.

BUT the researcher assured us that our office isn't a biohazard and we aren’t all about to die.

View this image ›

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

“The amount of pathogenic bacteria on the phones was still
relatively low and it doesn’t have much risk for causing
disease in healthy, young adults,” says Whittier.

Plus, it’s unclear whether those pathogens were naturally
occurring on the person’s body, transmitted to the person
from someone else, or from a contaminated surface in the
office, gym, subway, etc. “We really don’t know how these
germs got on the phone and they can survive for up to four
days — which makes it even harder to pinpoint the source,”
Whittier says.

At the end of the day, nobody needed to be super worried
about their results.
But, sure, the people who had
pathogens should probably clean their phone at some point
and maybe wash their hands more carefully.

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Sanitize. Your. Phones. I tested mine again right after
cleaning it, and it was bacteria-free!

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Caroline Kee / Ashley McGetrick / Via BuzzFeed

Remember how my phone had the bad kind of staph? Well, I
also used my phone as a control by swabbing it before and
after sanitizing with a diluted alcohol spray. The control
sample tested negative for everything, including

“There’s nothing that will resist simple cleaning protocol
with an alcohol solution,” says Whittier. But you want to
make sure you aren’t cleaning your phone with antibacterial
wipes or liquids which can damage the screen. The
diluted alcohol spray method is both phone-safe and
100% effective.

Sure, your phone will get covered in germs again after you
clean it. But it’s still good to keep the overall germ
count down, especially during flu season or when your
immune system is down. “Even if you’re just cleaning it to
reduce bacterial load, you’re also killing viruses or
stomach bugs that can make you really sick,” Whittier says.

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20. It’s
also important to
wash your hands and not use your phone in the bathroom
or while eating, because that defeats the purpose of
washing your hands.


Even if you’re an avid hand-washer, your phone can still
be picking up germs basically all day long. So try to
limit that by keeping it out of the bathroom (where gross
stuff like Norovirus lurks), and don’t use it while
you’re eating, since that can transmit bacteria and
viruses to your mouth and get you sick. “We aren’t trying
to be sterile or paranoid, there’s just no reason not to
try to reduce your risk and exposure to pathogens,” says

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21. So
you can guess what the people with the germiest phones had
in common…

So you can guess what the people with the germiest phones had in common...

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I looked back at the questionnaire results from the nine
people with the highest quantity or most pathogenic germs
on their phone. They all said they never cleaned their
phone or did so less than once a year using a cloth or a

More importantly, every single one of them regularly brings
their phone to the bathroom (public or private), and almost
all of them use it at the gym as well.

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22. And
what was the magical secret of the person who had the
cleanest phone? (THERE ACTUALLY WAS ONE)

And what was the magical secret of the person who had the cleanest phone? (THERE ACTUALLY WAS ONE)

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One of the phone cultures grew so few germs that it
surprised the researcher (and me!) because every other
petri dish looked like a Jackson Pollack painting.
Not surprisingly, she never brings her phone to the
bathroom and doesn’t use it at the gym or while eating.

But the real secret is that she cleans it once a week using
this magical “phone soap.” It’s not actually soap — it’s a
weird charger box that shoots out UV lights that “kill
99.9% of germs using UV rays.” It costs $50 and she said
all the instructions were in Mandarin and made zero sense
but she was very happy to learn her random Amazon purchase
was worth it.

TL;DR: I need this fucking
magical sanitizing UV light box charger thing from

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23. At
the end of the day, it was really cool to see what exactly
was living on our phones even if it was a little scary.

At the end of the day, it was really cool to see what exactly was living on our phones even if it was a little scary.

View this image ›

Taylor Miller / Via BuzzFeed

Maybe ignorance is bliss and I’m just a weirdo who really
wanted to see what kind of little guys were living on my
phone. But most of the people whose phones I tested were
pretty interested in the results, and they thought it made
sense given their ~liberal~ phone habits. It even inspired
some people to start cleaning their phones more often, so I
feel my job is done.

“The most important thing is to just be conscious of the
fact that wherever you bring your phone, there’s potential
for it to pick up bacteria and pathogens in that
environment,” says Whittier. But it’s also just cool to
know more about our unique bacterial fingerprint, because
that’s what makes each of us special.

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24. We also
surprised some people with their results, watch here how it
all went down:

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