Your Apple Watch or Fitbit can be a breeding ground for E. coli and staph. Here’s how to clean your fitness tracker

Your fitness tracker may be keeping a dirty little secret, and it’s not about how many steps you take.

Many TikTok users have taken to the platform to share that they have developed rashes from wearing their smartwatches. Some discovered they had contact dermatitis, which can be uncomfortable but will probably go away in a couple of weeks. Others had more potentially harmful infections.

Experts say it’s not surprising that our Apple Watches, Fitbits, Garmins and other activity trackers can cause skin irritation and infection, since we wear them while exercising, showering, sleeping and during other daily tasks and probably don’t wear them. we clean as often as we should.

Family physician Mike Varshavski, DO, known as Dr. Mike on social media, posted a TikTok in 2022, which has been viewed more than 5.7 million times, about the importance of removing your fitness tracker and letting your skin breathe to prevent irritation and infection.

@doctormike Apple Watch users, be careful ⌚️#apple #applewatch #skincare ♬ original sound – Doctor Mike

How dirty are fitness trackers?

A 2023 study published in the journal Advances in infectious diseases examined 20 different smartwatch and fitness tracker bracelets and found that 95% were contaminated with infection-causing bacteria.

The researchers found that 85% of the tracers tested contained Staphylococcus aureus (Staph aureus), 60% E. coli, and 30% P. aeruginosa. Simply put, they contained bacteria that can cause harmful infections in the bloodstream, bones, joints, and gastrointestinal tract.

“Even in relatively low quantities, these pathogens are important to public health,” said Nwadiuto Esiobu, PhD., senior author and professor of biological sciences at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Sciences, in a statement. press about the study.

“The quantity and taxonomy of bacteria that we found on the bracelets show that it is necessary to periodically disinfect these surfaces.”

The researchers tested plastic, rubber, cloth, leather and metal bracelets to see the correlation between the material and the amount of bacteria present. According to the study, bacteria tended to stick more to rubber and plastic bands, while there was little or no bacteria on bands made of gold or silver.

How to help prevent infections caused by fitness trackers

You can reduce your exposure to bacteria with simple cleaning measures.

Clean the bracelet regularly with common household disinfectants.

The study found that Lysol disinfectant spray, 70% ethyl alcohol, and apple cider vinegar proved to be at least somewhat effective on all fitness tracker materials.

Lysol and ethanol killed 99.99% of E. coli, Staph aureus, and P. aeruginosa after 30 seconds of contact with most bands, although two minutes of contact was required for plastic bands. However, apple cider vinegar was not effective against Staph aureus, even after five minutes.

It is important to note that for the bacteria identified, the recommended use time for Lysol Disinfectant Spray is five minutes, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds 70% ethanol to be effective against P. aeruginosa, E. coli and S. aureus after 10 seconds.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning hardware.

Companies like Garmin, Apple, and Fitbit list their specific cleaning and care recommendations on their sites. Each emphasizes the importance of not submerging trackers in cleaning products or using soaps, which can get stuck inside the device and cause them to malfunction or cause further skin irritation.

Use a damp microfiber cloth to clean the face of your watch or tracker.

The microfiber does not leave lint and does not scratch the screen.

Let your skin breathe

The Apple Watch wearing guide recommends wearing the watch tighter while you exercise (so the sensors can work properly to track things like heart rate) and loosening it after you finish your workout.

“You want more air circulation, less moisture retention, and less friction with your skin,” Varshavski said on her TikTok. He also recommends trying bands that have holes for more airflow and better circulation if a regular elastic band isn’t comfortable.

You should also make sure your bracelet is completely dry before putting it back on your wrist.

If you are doing your best to keep your tracker and bracelet clean and dry and your skin is still irritated, consult a doctor.

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