How to Clean and Sanitize Your Remote Controls

It's more important than ever to keep remotes for TVs and other gear free from germs

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Remote controls for TVs, cable boxes, and media players get handled all the time, often with fingers and mitts that aren't exactly sparkling clean. While it's always a good idea to keep them clean, over the past year the pandemic has reminded us it's also smart to occasionally give those devices a more thorough, disinfecting cleaning.

Last year, in a webcast produced by the Society for Human Resource Management, Jay C. Butler, M.D., deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommended routine environmental cleaning of any "high-touch" surfaces—including, yes, remote controls—with bleach or alcohol-based wipes. The CDC now says that surfaces aren't thought to be a common source of coronavirus infections, but they may still occasionally transmit the virus—and commonly touched surfaces can spread cold or flu viruses.

Some viruses may survive on surfaces like those for hours or even days. But the good news is that various products and solutions can be used to kill viruses like this one.

Cleaning Products for Remotes

The CDC says most common disinfectants registered by the Environmental Protection Agency can be used to kill pathogens, including the coronavirus. To help you choose one, the American Chemistry Council's Center for Biocide Chemistries has compiled a list with dozens of EPA-approved options.

It includes Clorox cleaner and bleach products, Lysol disinfectants, Purell sanitizers, and Zep disinfectants and cleaners.

More On Cleaning Your Gadgets

A household bleach or alcohol solution can also be used, the CDC says.

If you're using bleach, the CDC recommends mixing 4 teaspoons of bleach into a quart of water. Be sure to wipe the remote with a moist (water only) cloth after using the solution to prevent damage and discoloration.

If you're using alcohol, the solution should be at least 70 percent isopropyl alcohol.

In both cases, you should be careful when using the solution near fabric or leather.

You should always wear disposable or rubber gloves when cleaning and disinfecting, too. Also, remember to open windows to ventilate the room where you'll be applying the disinfectant.

You can find more information on cleaning and disinfecting guidelines on the CDC website.

Wipe, Don't Spray

Before cleaning a remote control, remove the batteries. Then turn the device upside down so that the buttons are facing downward and shake it or tap it against your palm to dislodge any debris that might have fallen between the keys. If you have a compressed air canister, give the remote a blast to shake free any additional dirt.

Don't spray any disinfecting solution directly onto—or into—the device. Use a wipe instead, or a paper towel or disposable cloth moistened with solution, to gently clean the outer shell.

To clean harder-to-reach areas in and around the buttons, you can use a cotton swab dampened with the disinfecting solution. More stubborn debris lodged deeper into the keys can be dislodged with a dry toothbrush or a toothpick.

When you're done cleaning the remote, let it air dry, suggests Brian Sansoni, head of communications at the American Cleaning Institute, a trade group that represents product manufacturers. Once the remote has been thoroughly cleaned and dried, you can reinstall the batteries. Then wash your hands again for 20 seconds, and you—and your remotes—will be good to go.

For more information about what you can do to keep your family safe, check out Consumer Reports' coronavirus resource hub for articles covering your health, home, daily routine, tech, and food.

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.