Choosing the right alcohol for cleaning smartphones, touchscreens & electronics display screens


Choosing the right alcohol for cleaning smartphones, touchscreens & electronics display screens

Alcohols are a great choice for cleaning various surfaces, due to their effective cleaning and disinfecting properties, and fast drying rates. The two commonly used alcohols are Isopropyl alcohol or Ethyl alcohol. While these two alcohols are often used interchangeably for various cleaning purposes, there is one area where ethyl alcohol should not be used in the place of isopropyl alcohol, and that is for cleaning electronic gadgets and touch screen displays.

There are several reasons for isopropyl alcohol being the safe choice for regular cleaning of computer screens, touch screen displays, and other electronics surfaces which are made of plastic, or have protective coverings made of plastic.

Some of the main factors to be considered while choosing the right alcohol for cleaning electronic surfaces are listed below, and these clearly indicate the superiority of isopropyl alcohol over ethyl alcohol as a cleaning agent for electronics.

1.  Presence of water:

Water is dangerous for all kinds of electronics, as it can damage expensive circuitry at the slightest contact. Alcohols invariably contain some amount of water in them as a characteristic chemical property.

However, isopropyl alcohol contains considerably lower amounts of water than ethyl alcohol, and also evaporates much faster. As a result, there is less danger of any moisture coming into contact with circuit components when isopropyl alcohol is used for cleaning.

2.  Damage to plastic surfaces:

Alcohols are solvents, which can chemically react with or damage certain plastic surfaces. Different types of plastics have varying levels of chemical resistance to different solvents. Isopropyl alcohol is a solvent that is very well tolerated by most types of plastics, and will not damage plastic surfaces.

Ethyl alcohol on the other hand, has some chemical reactivity towards certain plastics. The thin films of plastic used as protective coverings in most display screens are susceptible to damage upon continuous usage of ethyl alcohol.

3.  Residues or streaks:

An effective cleaning agent must evaporate cleanly without leaving behind any residue or streaks to mar the surface. Isopropyl alcohol is typically available as a pure alcohol, and when used on surfaces, it evaporates rapidly without leaving any residue behind.

Ethyl alcohol on the other hand is commonly available in its ‘denatured’ form, meaning that certain chemicals have been added to it to render it poisonous and unfit for human consumption (in order to prevent its misuse). The presence of these chemical additives causes residues to be left behind on the screen when the ethyl alcohol evaporates off.

Besides the issue of residues, another concern with using denatured ethyl alcohol is that some of these additives are actually chemicals which are highly damaging to plastic surfaces (such as acetone, methyl alcohol and pyridine, among others).

A little care in choosing the right cleaning agent can go a long way in preserving the life and quality of display screens and other electronics. Isopropyl alcohol is your best choice as a cleaning agent for the above reasons, and is the main component of most cleaning solutions and wipes. Ethyl alcohol is to be avoided as it can cause considerable damage to these surfaces upon prolonged usage.

Dr. Chitra Sundararajan
Scientist and Lab Manager
Ph.D. Organic Chemistry: University of Maryland
Post-doc: Dartmouth College

iCloth Touchscreen Cleaning Wipes are premoistened with our proprietary water-based formula containing isopropyl alcohol.  Learn more here:  What is in iCloth Touchscreen Cleaning Wipes’ liquid formula?

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