How to clean your smartwatch or fitness tracker

You’re following NHS advice to wash your hands for 20 seconds – the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. Boredom has even driven you to spring clean your home. But are you neglecting your smartwatch or fitness tracker?

Smartwatches can be 30 times dirtier than a toilet seat, according to a recent survey by comparison site CompareMyMobile.

Horrible as that sounds, it makes sense seeing as these devices are designed to stay on our wrists all the time, including while we’re exercising, while we’re sleeping and often while we’re swimming.

Of course, the lockdown means that you might not be working out in the same way that you used to, but your wearable can still be a useful companion to help you stay fit – and that means you need to keep it clean.

Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?

Why clean your smartwatch or fitness tracker?

Health officials are encouraging us to keep our tech clean, to curb the spread of coronavirus – we recently published guidance on cleaning your mobile phone.

But a wearable is just as important – especially if you’re touching it with your hands often, perhaps on your daily run or when you get back home.

It’s also good practice to clean your wearable even regardless of coronavirus, to prevent sweat, bacteria and general dirt building up and irritating your skin. There are also other factors to bear in mind, such as avoiding insect repellent, alcohol, make-up, perfume, sunscreen and other lotions coming into contact with your wearable.

How to clean your smartwatch or fitness tracker safely

Fortunately, you won’t need to buy anything special. You’ll more than likely have the products you need in your home already.

Remember, the advice below applies to the majority of smartwatches and fitness trackers. Check the manual or manufacturer website for any specific quirks first. Using the wrong cleaning materials might stop your wearable working properly and invalidate any warranty.

Turn your watch off before cleaning.

Wipe the screen down with a microfibre cloth. Remember to wash the microfibre cloth periodically, so that you’re not just smearing the same dirt around. Microfibre cloths can go in the washing machine, along with some gentle detergent, but don’t use bleach or wash them at the same time as cotton, which can clog up your cloth fibres.

Some smartwatch or fitness tracker screens can be cleaned with water. Apple, for example, says that if you notice dust or grime around the digital crown on your Apple Watch, you can hold the digital crown under lightly running, warm, water from a tap for 10 to 15 seconds, continuously turning and pressing the digital crown as water runs over the small gap between the crown and the housing. Some can be cleaned with a small amount of rubbing alcohol, then rinsed with water.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t use soap, hand sanitiser, cleaning wipes or household cleaners on your screen, unless manufacturer says that this is OK. For example, Apple says that you can use a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or antibacterial wipe on the exterior surfaces of your Apple Watch and on a sport band or metal band – if your band is leather, remove the band first. These could damage the inside workings of your wearable, and be too harsh on the band.

How to clean your smartwatch or fitness tracker

If it’s a rubber strap, rinse it with water. You can use a soap-free cleanser on some straps – check the manufacturer’s instructions. You may be able to scrub stains with a moist, soft-bristled toothbrush – but, as we said before, check the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you buy a leather or metal band, it won’t be water resistant. Soaking it in water might tarnish it or cause other damage. Wipe down metal or leather bands with a non-abrasive, lint-free cloth – lightly damp, if need be.

Some manufacturers expressly state that leather bands are intended for casual wear and aren’t recommended for vigorous activity – so bear that in mind. And some stipulate that you shouldn’t use a leather cleaner, metal cleaner or polish, as this could ruin any cosmetic finish.

These can be washed in cold water – and, in contrast to rubber straps, you can use mild soap to remove persistent dirt or stains.

Whichever type of band you have, dry it thoroughly with a non-abrasive, lint-free cloth before putting it back on. Moisture or product build-up on the back of a wearable can lead to skin irritation and stop it charging quickly.

Why you should keep wearing your smartwatch around the home during lockdown

Now it’s nice and clean, you’re ready to put it back on and use it to track your activity. Clearly you can’t go to the gym or the swimming pool at the moment, but exercise remains just as important for your physical and mental health. You can keep up your fitness during the lockdown by:

10,000 steps is a common target, but many trackers will allow you to adjust that if you’re still building up from a very sedentary life or if you’re already smashing that target.

You might be surprised how many steps you clock up just through doing daily chores – according to Cancer Research UK, you might walk 4,800 steps while doing just an hour of housework.

The NHS says that exercise that doesn’t make you sweaty or out of breath doesn’t count towards your exercise target of 150 minutes a week, so housework alone isn’t enough. However, the NHS also says that it’s important to build physical activity into your daily routine and that any activity is better than none.

Plenty of fitness trackers and smartwatches can be used to track exercises that you can do from your living room, including yoga, pilates, aerobics, rowing and cycling (if you have the necessary rowing machine and exercise bike). Most will just give you basic stats for these, but some go into more detail.

There are no shortage of online exercises tutorials to follow on YouTube, or your regular exercise class may even still be happening via video call.

Check out our recent story on five ways tech can help you keep fit at home during the lockdown to find out more.

You’re allowed to leave home to exercise. You’ll need to take precautions, though.

Remember to stay two metres away from anyone not from your household, avoid touching communal surfaces such as lift and traffic buttons, and clean your hands as soon as you get home.

Fitness trackers and smartwatches offer a wealth of sleep data these days. Don’t take it too literally, though – it can only ever be an estimate. But, if you routinely pushed sleep to the bottom of your to-do list pre-lockdown, now could be the perfect chance to catch up. A sleep tracker could give you that extra motivation.

Our guide to sleep tracking with a wearable explains how.

Video: how to track sleep with a smartwatch

Watch our video for more tips and advice from a sleep expert.

Which? wearables reviews

It’s only worth wearing a fitness tracker or smartwatch if the data it collects is accurate.

We test how accurately each wearable can capture data such as your step count, distance travelled and heart rate. We try them out during a range of activities, including an outdoors run and household tasks, such as carrying shopping, walking up flights of stairs, sweeping the floor and unloading the dishwasher.

If you’re looking to buy a new wearable, make sure it’s a Best Buy fitness tracker or Best Buy smartwatch that will give you trustworthy data.