(WTVM) - We have a "dirty question" for you: what's a germ-ridden, object you carry around with you and use all the time?

If you said your smartphone or tablet, you're correct. One study revealed your smartphone could be dirtier than a toilet seat!

So how do you get rid of those germs? There are lots of products on the market that claim to disinfect your phone… but do they really work? And are they worth the cost?

News Leader 9's Elizabeth White put them to the test in this special report.

These college students let us swab their smartphones for germs... and when they saw these results they were shocked!

"That's really gross!"


"Whose is this??"

"That's disgusting!"

All of that bacteria on her smartphone worries college student Xandy Peterson.

"I use it for everything, and I, I have it in bed with me and I eat with it next to me, so I think my exposure is, is high," Xandy said.

So what do they use to try to clean off this microscopic gunk?

"My idea of cleaning my phone is wiping it on my shirt or my pants," said college student Koyia Tuttle.

That may not be the best way to kill germs, but do you have to shell out cash for specialized phone "hygiene products"?

Xandy and her classmates let us use their devices to try products that claim to disinfect or sanitize electronics.

Working with microbiology professor Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a top researcher on mobile equipment and the spread of germs from the University of Arizona, we tested how these products tackle bacteria.

"With mobile equipment we've made more germs more mobile today," said Dr. Gerba. "They can move around."

These Phone Kleen wipes claim to disinfect cell phones and cost about $20 a box, but do they work?

"They reduced the number of bacteria to an undetectable level."

This CleanWell disinfectant spray says it kills 99.99 percent of germs.  In our test it got rid of about 95.5 percent, and for $8 a canister…

"The spray solution seemed to eliminate the number of bacteria very readily from the surface."

And what about UV light cleaners?

This portable UV disinfector says it kills 99 percent of germs… it sells for under $10, and had to tackle the dirtiest phone of the bunch. Our test showed it reduced about 73 percent of germs.

This more expensive CleanWave Sanitizing Wand, which runs about $40, makes the same claim and Dr. Gerba says it reduced the germs down to zero.

His impression of all the gadgets?

"I was surprised that all of them seemed to work fairly well in reducing the number of germs on the phones," Dr. Gerba said.

While getting germs off your phone is important, experts say you have to be sure not to wreck it in the process.

Electronics expert Todd Hasleton says be careful with things like sprays and wipes…

"You could accidentally get liquid inside the headphone jack, which would ruin your audio experience inside the speakers; get liquid inside the speakers, inside the microphone, in which case nobody would be able to hear you on the phone," said Todd Hasleton, Executive Director of Mobile, TechnoBuffalo. "Or you could get it inside of the charging port, which could fry your electronic completely."

As for these college students, some who used to use their clothes to clean their phones may be opting for more sterile methods.

"I'm definitely going to do things differently in regard to cleaning my phone."

As for whether you need to shell out cash for a specialized product, we also tested how well a simple microfiber cloth gets rid of germs.

On the phone we used, the cloth actually got rid of all the bacteria, but Dr. Gerba points out the key is to use always use a clean cloth. 

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