Here’s How Many Germs Are Lurking on Your Smartwatch, According to New Research

Updated: Oct. 16, 2023

A new study cautions that your smartwatch could be more than just a connectivity tool—it might also be a bacterial hotspot.

You trust that smartwatch on your wrist for numerous reasons: It monitors your fitness, keeps you connected and helps manage your day with ease—but, in light of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, cleanliness is crucial. A recent study from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) highlights an added concern for smartwatch users: The material of your wristband can affect how many germs call it home.

What lurks on your wristband?

The study, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Advances in Infectious Diseases in June 2023, shed light on an often overlooked aspect: Wristband materials and their bacterial load. Using standard microbiological assays, various wristbands, from rubber and plastic to metal and cloth, were cultured for bacteria. Almost all—95%—had some form of contamination. Rubber and plastic bands led the pack with notably high bacterial numbers, while metallic gold and silver bands displayed minimal bacterial presence.

Nwadiuto Esiobu, PhD, senior author of the study and professor of biological sciences at FAU, pointed out in a press release, “Plastic and rubber wristbands may provide a more appropriate environment for bacterial growth as porous and static surfaces tend to attract and be colonized by bacteria.”

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The common bacterial offenders

Staphylococcus spp was detected on 85% of the wristbands, while Pseudomonas spp was present on 30%, and E. coli was found on 60%. Notably, these aren’t merely benign passengers. Staphylococcus aureus, which naturally resides on human skin, can cause many clinical diseases like skin and soft tissue infections. Pseudomonas spp, typically found in the environment, can be responsible for serious infections, such as post-surgical complications or pneumonia. E. coli, often resulting from fecal-oral transmission, is part of a larger family of pathogens, including familiar threats like Salmonella.

Dr. Esiobu stresses, “Even at relatively low numbers, these pathogens are of public health significance.” This is particularly true for the immunocompromised and healthcare workers interacting with vulnerable populations. The research also pinpointed gym enthusiasts as having notably high staphylococcal counts, emphasizing the importance of sanitizing wristbands post workouts, whether at the gym or at home.

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Disinfection techniques and their efficacy

The study also analyzed the effectiveness of household disinfectants on these wristbands. Lysol Disinfectant Spray and 70% ethanol stood out, showing more than a 99.99% kill rate within 30 seconds, irrespective of the wristband material. On the other hand, Apple cider vinegar showed less potency, requiring two full minutes for a significant bacterial reduction. Lysol and 70% alcohol were highly effective against specific bacterial strains, including E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

The takeaway here? The next time you check your step count or dismiss a notification, remember it might be time to give that smartwatch a good clean.

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