One positive thing to come from the pandemic is a renewed focus on cleanliness in common areas and frequently touched surfaces. Wiping down the yokes, avionics, and door handles after each flight has become standard practice at many flight schools, flying clubs, and charter companies. That focus on cleanliness extends to tablets and phones too—but what is really safe? After all, most portable electronics have anti-reflective screen finishes that can be damaged by using the wrong cleaning product.
Let’s start with the advice from device manufacturers. For cleaning iPads, Apple says: “Use a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Avoid getting moisture in openings. Don’t use window cleaners, household cleaners, compressed air, aerosol sprays, solvents, ammonia, abrasives, or cleaners containing hydrogen peroxide to clean iPad.”
The same basic advice holds for iPhones, but the latest generation iPhone 11 and 12 models are a little more water-resistant so warm soapy water is an option. Apple once again suggests you use a soft lint-free cloth (like a camera lens cleaner), and repeats the warning about household cleaning products or compressed air. To be specific, Apple says, “Your iPhone has a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic — oil repellent — coating. Cleaning products and abrasive materials will diminish the coating and might scratch your iPhone.”
For everyday use, we are big fans of these EFIS wipes. They are great for almost any glass or acrylic surface, use no solvents, are non-toxic and biodegradable, and meet Boeing spec D6-17487. They are safe and reliable, but they do not contain alcohol, so they are not ideal for disinfecting. For that, the US Centers for Disease Control says, “consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol to disinfect touch screens…”
Apple’s latest guidance gives a cautious yes to such alcohol-based cleaners: “Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple product, such as the display, keyboard, or other exterior surfaces.”
By the way, if you’re concerned about your panel-mount avionics, Garmin issued a service letter with similar advice: “Cleaners containing ammonia will harm the anti-reflective coating on many Garmin aviation display lenses. Disinfecting using a solution of 70% isopropyl alcohol that does not contain ammonia is preferred.”
So go ahead with your Clorox wipes or your homemade alcohol solution, but keep it to 70% or less and don’t submerge your device in it. Also be careful not to push too hard on the screen, since a piece of dirt could scratch the screen or at least wear down the protective coating. A quick wipe of the external surfaces should be sufficient.
One other tip: Armorglas screen protectors provide an additional layer of protection and according to MyGoFlight (the manufacturer) they can withstand up to 70% alcohol solutions with no damage. Armorglas does not affect the touchscreen performance, prevents scratches, and reduces glare. It’s a great addition to any iPad, especially for shared devices. Custom-cut sizes are available for almost all iPhone and iPad models.