From toilet to touch screen:”We were shocked when we realised just how dirty a touch screen actually gets.”

253,857 bacterial colonies per square inch. That’s how dirty an ordinary check-in screen at the airport gets. The study was carried out by insuranceQuotes in 2017 and literally puts its finger on the problem of touch screens.

“Even though we weren’t surprised, we were still shocked when we realised just how dirty a touch screen actually gets. Developing Paprtect felt like a very simple and obvious way to contribute to a healthier society,” says Paprtect’s Ola Thorwalls.

The idea behind Paprtect was born after a visit to a fast-food restaurant. It was in the middle of the ongoing pandemic and everyone was being careful to keep their distance. But the touch screens were being used like they always were for ordering and payment – and they didn’t look clean. That was when Paprtect’s founders, Erik Elwing and Ola Thorwalls, started thinking about how much bacteria there really is on a touch screen. And shouldn’t there be a better solution to keeping them clean?

”I sat down and started googling, out of sheer curiosity. It turned out that there were a number of scientific studies and research papers that confirmed our experience, including the insuranceQuotes airport study.”

Ola Thorwalls

Clean a thousand times a day?

Up to 45% of the bacteria and viruses on a glass surface can be transferred by touch1, and the larger the screen, the greater the number of bacteria2. At the same time, it is practically impossible to keep a touch screen clean, according to Ola Thorwalls.

“There’s really no good cleaning method. You can’t use the kind of antibacterial chemicals that you can use in a toilet, because the touch screen can’t withstand them, and the available moist screen wipes have a limited effect. Usually the staff simply wipe the screen with a cloth, which means that you’re really just moving the dirt around,” explains Ola Thorwalls, who believes that even if the tools did exist, it would be difficult to maintain in practice.

”In 2021, the journal Royal Society Open Science published an article looking at a simulation carried out by researchers. The results showed that a touch screen needs to be cleaned 1,000 times a day to reduce the spread of infection by 5%3. Of course, that’s unreasonable, and so the researchers also concluded that other solutions needed to be developed. The Paprtect finger guard is our response.”

Ola Thorwalls

From toilet to touch screen

According to Ola Thorwalls, encouraging users of touch screens, ATMs, card readers and coffee machines to use a finger guard could contribute to reducing the spread of bacteria and viruses – and in the long run, to a somewhat healthier society.

The spread of infection is, and will remain, a behavioural issue. After all, it’s human behaviour that actually contributes to the spread of infection in the first place. In fact, we touch our face – and our eyes, mouth and nose – on average 35 times an hour4, and the average palm is host to more than 150 unique bacterial cultures5. Bacteria that we then pass on as soon as we use our hands. When London Metropolitan University carried out a study at a famous fast-food restaurant, all the touch screens had traces of faecal matter on them. There were even traces of listeria and staphylococci6.

“All it takes is for two people to have failed to wash their hands, doesn’t it?” reasons Ola Thorwalls. 

Because the fact is, not everyone washes their hands after they’ve been to the toilet. A survey conducted by Bradley Corporation shows that 43% of people do not wash their hands after visiting a public toilet. 48% do not use soap, but simply rinse their hands in water7.

“That’s the extreme case. But there are a lot of other situations where we also use our hands and aren’t as careful as when we’ve been to the toilet. Because, hand on heart, how many times have you applied hand sanitiser to your hands before entering your code on a payment terminal?”

Want to create social benefit

Some of us are aware of the risks, and act accordingly, states Ola Thorwalls, who talks about a colleague at work.

“She was always in the habit of using a tissue before pressing the button on the coffee machine. She thought it was safer and more hygienic to do so, and it’s really that simple gesture that we’ve recreated.”

But even though most of us are aware of the issue, we still don’t act accordingly. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, most of us realise that there are bacteria and viruses on touch screens, but we use them anyway, perhaps because we don’t understand the contagion risks 8.

So, how worried should we be?

“I don’t think we should be worried. But if we want to stay healthy and take care of our visitors and our staff, then Paprtect’s finger guard is an excellent complement to other hygiene routines. The point of Paprtect’s finger guard is, of course, that you not only prevent the spread of your own bacteria further – you also protect yourself from others’ germs. We also reduce the risk of getting sick. Our goal has been to create a socially beneficial product.”

  1. Julian, Leckie & Boehm (2010)
  2. Koroglu, Gunal, Yildis, Savas, Ozer & Altindis (2015)
  3. Diabattista, Nicolaides & Georgiou (2021)
  4. Zhang, Jia, Wang, King, Chang & Li (2020)
  5. Fieer, Hamady, Lauber & Knicht (2008)
  6. 6. Smith, A. (2018, 28 november)
  7. Bradley Corporation (2021)
  8. Baehviours related to Touchscreens and Microbiological Threaths. International Journal of environmental research and public health, 18 (17), 9269.