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How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch

How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch Featured Articles

The need to sanitize or otherwise sterilize a wrist watch is nothing new. For years, scientists and medical professionals of all types have had to deal with the fact that their wristwatch (or other wearable objects) are subject to contamination and need to be cleaned from time to time. As I write this article, countless people are concerned about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. More people than ever are interested in protecting themselves from the spread of viruses and other pathogens, so aBlogtoWatch wanted to offer some advice on how to sterilize/sanitize your wristwatch properly.

To answer the question of how to properly sanitize you wristwatch, I decided to ask a respected watch service and repair center here in the United States. Family-operated Stoll & Co. has been working on timepieces since 1982 out of Dayton, Ohio. I felt they would be perfect to help answer the question of how to best sterilize a wristwatch.  (Note that the photography in this article is from the Stoll & Co. facility.) Most important in this discussion isn’t so much how to sterilize objects, but rather how to do so on a wristwatch without undue risk of damage or blemishes to such a sentimental and sometimes delicate object. Timepieces are also valuable objects, and it would be a shame if someone ruined their luxury watch when simply trying to clean it. Let’s hear what Emily Stoll, from Stoll & Co. watch repair, has to say about sanitizing your wrist watch:

How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch Featured Articles

Ariel Adams (AA): If someone fears that their wristwatch has come into contact with a virus or other infectious agent, can their watch be sterilized? Are all watches designed to be sterilized, or are some watches much better choices if their wearer needs to sterilize them from time to time?

Emily Stoll (ES): If someone is in fear that their timepiece has been in contact with a virus or infectious agent, they should know that most timepieces can be sterilized, depending on their composition. Most stainless steel and precious metal timepieces with sapphire and mineral crystals will not be affected or compromised by most disinfectants. Caution should be taken, though, if the watch is not water resistant, or if the water resistance no longer meets factory expectations.

How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch Featured Articles

AA: Traditional ways to sterilize objects include rubbing them with isopropyl alcohol or boiling them. While these techniques might very well helps sterilize a wristwatch, they might also damage it in the process. Given that wristwatches are sometimes delicate, and often high-value items, what is the preferred technique used to sterilize them?

ES: To properly sterilize and disinfect a timepiece, it is important to clean the watch of any dirt and debris first before sterilizing it. To do so, if the watch is water resistant, we recommend cleaning the case and metal bracelet with warm water and mild soap with a soft brush. Using water with a temperature above 90 degrees causes risk of the gaskets and seals expanding, compromising the water resistance, and is not recommended. Thus, boiling your wrist watch in water to sterilize it is not recommended because of the damage possible from exposure to such high temperatures.

Once the watch is clean, we then recommend sterilizing it with high grade rubbing alcohol that contains at least 60% alcohol, by applying it to a cotton ball and wiping the surface of the timepiece. Be cautious not to saturate the watch for too long in rubbing or isopropyl alcohol as it could also compromise the gaskets and seals.

It is also important to note if the watch has any other materials such as plastic, ceramic, carbon fiber or any other type of coating, isopropyl alcohol should be avoided and is not recommended on these materials. In that case, it is wisest to stick with soap and warm water as a cleaning solution.

How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch Featured Articles

AA: It is understood that you are not a doctor, but are you familiar with any particular watch case, strap, or bracelet materials that are known for their microbial resistance or simple preference by doctors and other working professionals for whom wrist watch sterilization is important?

ES: It is important that professionals in the medical field have and wear watches that are easy to clean and are composed of materials that can be sanitized and disinfected effectively. Stainless steel watches containing metal bracelets where the bracelet is made up of large links, or silicon straps are most desirable. Mesh or braided stainless steel is not as easy to clean and can harbor dirt in the fine spaces between links and should not be considered for this type of work.

How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch Featured Articles

AA: Turning the previous question around, can you think of any watch case, strap, or bracelet materials which would be best avoided if the wearer needed to promote or maintain an sterile environment on their wrist? This also includes materials that simply can’t safely be repeatedly sterilized.

ES: To best promote a sterile environment, it is important to avoid certain materials that can not be easily cleaned, sterilized and disinfected. The biggest concerns are watches with nylon, leather, cloth, or fabric straps. These materials typically can not be cleaned or sterilized without affecting or mutating the material. Other concerning fashions include metal or plastic stretch bands, mesh or braided structures, or woven metals, as they easily collect dirt and debris and are more challenging to clean.

How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch Featured Articles

AA: Is sterilizing your wristwatch something you can do by yourself at home? Do you need any special equipment? Can a watch repair service provide watch sterilization services or is that not a something which is typically offered?

ES: Sterilizing your wristwatch is something that anyone can do at home with no special equipment needed. If you are able to get your watch to a proper service center, they can provide a more thorough process of sterilization as they are able to disassemble any components that are prone to holding dirt for a more comprehensive cleaning. Having access to an ultrasonic cleaner and steam cleaning machine also allows for a more precise effort, which most reputable service centers indeed do have.

How To Properly Sanitize Your Wrist Watch Featured Articles

AA: It is easy for someone to grow concern over what might happen, and it does make perfect sense that you wrist watch should be sterile if there is an increased fear of viruses and other infectious diseases. Having said that, in your many years performing professional watch repair and service, how often have you heard of a watch leading to someone catching an illness or have you ever received a timepiece so dirty you wouldn’t even work on it until it was sanitized?

ES: According to the CDC, “Transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented” and through my 45 years as a watchmaker, I have never heard of anyone contracting an illness from a timepiece.

Ultimately, timepieces are worn on one of the most exposed parts of our bodies, and are subjected to all kinds of dirt and grime and proper cleaning and sterilization should always be considered.

We have seen a lot of watches come through our shop at Stoll & Co. and one particular watch I will never forget arrived to us after it was swallowed by a dog, and had yet to be cleaned off… It got the full treatment, of course.



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  • aWtchslvr

    In the same way I take a daily shower and the washing machine works with the socks and similar stuff, everyday I clean my watch with a clean-cottton-wet towel. A simple measure to prevent unpleasant situations.

    • Berndt Norten

      I’m down with that.

      • aWtchslvr

        In addition to hygiene, waking up for work and placing a tidy watch on my wrist is a small daily pleasure I enjoy with.

        • Berndt Norten

          It’s times like these you learn to live again
          It’s times like these you give and give again
          It’s times like these you learn to love again
          It’s times like these time and time again

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Great! Now my watch is trying to kill me !!!!!

    • Sheez Gagoo

      Don’t be so whiney. We’re all in the same situation. Some even worse.

      • Raymond Wilkie

        I wasn’t actually being serious.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Stop downing me you freek. Your not helping my anxiety levels at this time.

    • Berndt Norten

      Ode to Sir Willie LowDown

      You ain’t got to be so bad, got to be so cold
      This dog eat dog existence sure is getting old
      Got to have a DOWnJones for this
      DOWnJones for that

      This runnin’ with the DOWnvote Joneses, boy, just ain’t where it’s at, no, no
      You gonna come back around
      To the sad, sad truth, the dirty lowdown Downvote

      • Lost in a Raymond wilderness of pain
        And all the children are insane
        All the children are insane
        Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

      • DanW94

        Ray-O missed a post that day he left the shack
        But that ain’t all he missed, the down votes are coming back
        Next stop, Glasgow, Malcolm put the comment down and let’m roll
        Ray said one more up oughta do it
        This review, ain’t nothing to it
        I can’t take another down voooote,
        Ray-O, Whoah, oh,oh,oh….

  • Berndt Norten

    Great double entendre!

  • SuperStrapper

    I put all of my watches in a sock and then put the sock in the top rack of the dishwasher and set it to pots and pans. Once a quarter.

    • Berndt Norten

      I thought I was the only one who did that!

    • Mark B

      Bet your leather straps really come out looking “like new.”

  • Very interesting article. Always an admirer of your passion for all things watches.

  • jaisonline

    Great article. ! People also forget COVID-19 lives on stainless steel up to 72 hours!

    Better to be safe than sorry by doing nothing,

    My wife is a M.D. and everything gets sanitized that she uses work. So she is used to it.

    CDC says antibacterial soap or >70% alcohol-based hand kills COVID-19.

    Even before this, I just wore my watch in the shower. Rinsed all the soap off. Then every couple months, I run the bracelet through a ultrasonic cleanse. When using a brush, just be careful about any text on the bezel…

  • Mikita

    Actually, I’ve started sanitizing my watches long before all that situation. Since I’m working in nanoelectronics lab with lots of facilities and chemicals at hand, I just got used to wiping my watches with IPA and putting them in the UV chamber together with my samples 🙂

  • BJ314

    Actually, he didn’t cite anything,. He’s relying on anecdotal evidence, which is the same as “if it had happened, I’m sure I would have heard of it”, when in fact that isn’t really true. He said no one has ever confirmed transfer of a virus from a timepiece to a human. That being said, no one tracks that kind of thing. Do you think they are going through the trouble finding the exact item in every person’s home who’s been diagnosed and making a list? lol There’s a reason why medical staff only where certain types of timepieces and why the CDC does actually suggest that if you’re not medical, military or law enforcement that you avoid wearing watches and jewelry altogether during any viral outbreaks.

    COVID-19 like a lot of other viruses can live several days on watches, cellphones and a range of other items. Much longer than most people think.

  • 2manywatchs

    I just stick mine in my PhoneSoap phone sanitizer… the UV-C light kills everything!

  • Joe Grubenhoff

    Any surface can serve as a fomite (an inanimate object that can permit transmission of an infectious microbe) so, contrary to some of the comments, you CAN get sick from a watch. For example, you’re a respiratory therapist and your patient coughs. The respiratory droplets land on your watch. You don’t notice that this happens. You proceed through your shift being very careful to wash your hands or using hand sanitizer. You leave your shift, go home, take off your watch with bare hands, rub your sleepy eyes before washing them. BOOM! You’re potentially inoculated. Solution: either don’t wear a watch when working in high risk settings, rub your watch down with >60% alcohol, put it in a high-intensity UV cleaning box or, if you don’t care about it ever working again, submerge in alcohol, autoclave, boil. But it is unlikely that anyone is going to fund a study exploring transmission of COVID19 on timepieces – thus, there is truth that no one has specifically heard of a watch transmitting a disease. No one has heard that drunk chimpanzees are dangerous drivers either. Doesn’t mean it’s not obvious that would be an issue.

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