An illustration of a remote surrounded by sparkles.

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. So, with spreading concern over COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, this is a good time to give those devices a thorough, disinfecting cleaning.

In a recent 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, recommends routine environmental cleaning of any "high-touch" surfaces, including, yes, remote controls—with bleach or alcohol-based wipes.

As research suggests, the coronavirus may survive on surfaces like those for hours or even days. But the good news—given that many stores are now sold out of cleaning items—is that various products and solutions can be used to kill viruses like this one.

Recommended Cleaning Products for Remotes

The CDC says most common disinfectants registered by the Environmental Protection Agency can be used to kill 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.

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

For the former, it recommends mixing 4 teaspoons of bleach into a quart of water. (Just be sure to wipe the remote with a moist cloth after using the solution to prevent damage and discoloration.)

For the latter, 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 gloves when cleaning and disinfecting, too. Discard the gloves after each cleaning. Also, remember to open windows to ventilate the room where you'll be applying the disinfectant. And after you're done cleaning, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

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

Wipe, Don't Spray

When it comes to cleaning a remote control, you should start by removing 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 matter.

When applying the disinfectant, don't spray any 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 wooden 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 re-install 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 FAQ and coronavirus resource hub, for articles covering your health, home, daily routine, tech, and food.