Smartwatch Wristbands Are Loaded with Germs

Researchers tested various wristband materials and found that 95% were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria. However, one wristband material was more resistant to bacteria than others.

Wearing a wristband to raise awareness is a stylish way to show support for a cause. Wristbands are also used in other wearables, such as smartwatches. And because of the electronics involved, smartwatch wristbands are not intentionally exposed to soap and water and many people don't think to clean them.

But could wristbands harbor potentially harmful pathogens? And if so, what's the best way to clean these wearables?

That's what scientists from the Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science decided to investigate in a study published in Advances in Infectious Diseases.

To determine whether wristbands — including those attached to smartwatches — harbored pathogens, the scientists conducted microbial assays on 20 plastic, rubber, cloth, leather, and metallic gold and silver smartwatch wristbands.

The researchers removed the wristbands from participants while they were engaged in various activities, like working at a desk, driving, exercising in a gym, or working with animals.

The test results showed that 95% of the smartwatch wristbands were contaminated with bacteria. Specifically, 85% of the wristbands contained staphylococcus spp, 30% harbored Pseudomonas spp, and 60% were contaminated with E. coli, a bacterium that can cause severe gastrointestinal infections.

Moreover, smartwatches sampled from participants working out at the gym had the highest staphylococcal counts.

Still, the researchers found that smartwatch wristbands made of metallic silver or gold had little or no bacteria. In comparison, those made of plastic or rubber had the highest bacterial counts.

What's the best way to clean smartwatches?

In addition to performing bacterial tests, the scientists experimented with different cleaning and disinfecting solutions to see which was most effective at killing the germs found on the smartwatch bands.

They discovered that Lysol™ Disinfectant Spray or 70% alcohol killed nearly 100% of the bacteria within 30 seconds. However, apple cider vinegar was not as effective, requiring a full 2 minutes to reduce but not eliminate harmful bacteria.

Still, Lysol's product label recommends five minutes of contact time for optimal disinfection of the bacteria identified on the smartwatch bands. Therefore, the study authors recommend that people follow the usage times indicated on the label.

Always use caution when cleaning electronics, including smartwatches and other wearables, as misuse of cleaning products may result in damage to the device.

Moreover, in light of what they found, the researchers say that future studies should investigate other wearable devices, like earbuds and even smartphones, to see if they also harbor potentially dangerous pathogens.

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