PhoneSoap zaps smartphones clean with UV light

One of the icky facts about the ubiquity of mobile technology is this: Your smartphone is probably kind of crappy.

As in, it may very well have some fecal matter coating its sleek, touch-screen surface, according to a 2011 hygiene study from the University of London.

Enter PhoneSoap, a new universal cellphone-charging box that encloses your device and emits ultra-violet wavelengths that zap and kill bacteria while the device is powering up.

"Everything we touch, we transfer to our phone. We wash our hands, but we don't wash our phones," Dan Barnes, one of the product's co-founders, told CBC News from Orem, Utah.

"If you're going to charge your phone every night, why not sanitize and charge it at the same time?"

Last week, while electronics giants were showcasing next-generation products at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Barnes and his PhoneSoap colleagues roamed the convention floor offering to clean exhibitors' phones for them while demonstrating their product.

Accompanying the PhoneSoap marketing team was a mascot dressed as an iPhone with a swirl of poop on its head.

It's a gross image, but a 2011 study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine at Queen Mary, University of London, found that one in six people use their phones while they're in the bathroom.

"You're going out, meeting lots of people, shaking a lot of hands and touching your phone," Barnes said, noting that British researchers in 2010 found cellphones that carried 18 times more bacteria than a toilet flush handle.

"The other issue is that we keep our cellphones so close to our mouths when we're using them," he said.

A 2012 study of microbial contamination on the mobile phones of health-care workers found E. coli and the drug-resistant superbug MRSA. Some bacteria found on phones can also cause pinkeye or diarrhea.

PhoneSoap began shipping units in November 2013 and orders have been coming from Canadian customers.

Barnes said the product is safe for phones because it uses no liquids, heat, alcohol or harsh chemicals to sanitize the device. It takes five minutes to complete disinfecting the electronics.

The UV-C light penetrates DNA cell walls and renders the bacteria harmless.

Co-founder Wesley Laporte got the idea for a phone bacteria-sanitizing device while working at a cancer research lab and noticing that ultraviolet germicidal irradiation was used to sterilize work surfaces.

"If you open the box while it's going, the light will automatically turn off," Barnes said.

A KickStarter crowdfunding campaign for PhoneSoap was successfully funded in May 2012, raising more than $63,000. The charger retails online for $49.95 US.