"We touch them all day long, throw them on the ground, have them in our bags — they're just extensively exposed to the environment, so that makes for a fair amount of bacterial growth," says Michelle Barron, MD, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Colorado.
Ultimately, our hands are to blame. Research has shown that they can harbor more than 150 types of bacteria at any given time. And since we use our fingers to snap, 'gram, text, and call, it's easy to see why the results aren't pretty.
We decided to swab six staffers' phones to see just how dirty they were. After rubbing the swabbed Q-tips on petri dishes (a major sixth grade science class throwback), we watched what happened over the course of a week. We sent gifs of the final growths to Dr. Barron for a look and she assured us that while they might look scary, the bacteria is not uncommon.
"Most of the bacteria on phones is bacteria that normally lives in the environment anyways," she says. This includes skin flora such as Staphylococcus aureus or coagulase-negative Staphylococcus, as well as (ugh) coliforms, the bacteria we associate with stool. Come on, we know we're not the only ones who have brought our phones to the bathroom with us.
Dr. Barron advises washing your hands after using your phone and cleaning your phone regularly to stay safe. (Apple has tips on how to do so without damaging your screen.)
Click through to see what was lurking on our phones — and probably on yours, too.