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Oleophobic coating – what it is, how to clean your phone, what to do if the coating wears off

Posted: , by Paul.K

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Image courtesy of Green Onions Supply 

Image courtesy of Green Onions Supply 


By this day, you've probably seen the term "oleophobic coating" on some tech-selling sites – it's sometimes mentioned in phone specs, while at other times screen protector manufacturers will boast about it on their product's page. But what exactly is this strangely-named substance, what does it do, and is it really important?

Well, it is. In reality, all modern smartphones have a thin glaze of the material covering their screens, which is probably why you don't see it toted so often on product pages, unless the manufacturer is really reaching for positive features to list. See, "oleophobic" is a word used to describe a type of material, which lacks an affinity to oils, ergo – it keeps fingerprint spots off of a glass panel. The idea to use such a coating entered the world of mobile phones with the iPhone 3GS, which was the first handset to be covered with this type of solution.

Oleo-what now?


Oleophobic coating provides a certain amount of finger smudge resistance to your smartphone's display; it doesn't make it fingerprint proof, mind you, but keeps the grease at bay, not allowing it to adhere to the glass. This is why a simple wipe with a soft cloth will often leave the smartphone looking brand new, without the use of any extra cleaning solutions. Usually, if any normal glass has fingerprints on it, trying to wipe it with nothing but a cloth will bring much different results – the grease spreads across the surface and just follows the cloth's strokes, without coming off completely – it generally needs some kind of cleaning solution to be completely cleaned off.

The oleophobic layer also has a slightly slippery feel to it, which makes our gadgets feel slick to the touch. This also helps the glass be more scratch resistant, as a reduced friction will cause dangerous materials to slide off the surface, rather than damaging it. Ever wondered why brand new smartphone screens feel a bit more slippery (in the good way), compared to the one your 1- or 2-year old handset? Well, the fresh layer of oleophobic coating is the answer. It, unfortunately, wears off with time. How long it would take for your specific screen to shed off its grease protection could be highly individual. First, it depends on amount and type of usage; second, each human's body has varying levels of acidity to their sweat, and third, the method of bonding the coating to the glass, and the type of polymer used, is entirely up to every single manufacturer, and thus – we have coatings of different qualities that can last for various time periods, and may feel slightly different to the touch (though, the quality issue is mostly normalized, as most manufacturers use Gorilla Glass, which comes with its own coat). Generally, an oleophobic coat should be able to last a smartphone's typical 2-year life cycle, however, misuse, poor quality, or just bad conditions could cause it to wear out within months.

Image courtesy of Green Onions Supply

Image courtesy of Green Onions Supply

How do I clean my smartphone's screen and should I mind its oleophobic layer?


Yes, you should. It is not recommended to use any alcohol-based solutions when cleaning a capacitive touchscreen, neither is it a good idea to apply common household detergents, even if it's stated that they can be used for computer and / or TV screens. The aggressive compounds in such cleaners can easily wipe off the oleophobic coat and leave your glass “naked”.

Cleaning your mobile device's glass should generally be done with just a soft, cotton rag. In extreme cases, water-based solvents should do the trick – cleaners that are specifically designed for touchscreens can be bought at various outlets, just make sure to check the ingredients, as many manufacturers will feel no remorse in stamping an alcohol-based detergent as mobile-friendly. Also, applying the detergent to the rag, rather than spraying it directly on the screen, is a good idea.

I think my oleophobic layer has worn off, what should I do?


Water drops on oleophobic coating. Image courtesy of iFixit

Water drops on oleophobic coating. Image courtesy of iFixit

First thing's first, if you are unsure, whether the coating has worn off, drip a single drop of water on the display. If the drop gathers around itself and stays in an almost spheric form – you're fine. If it just splats on the display, then you've got a case of worn-out grease-repeller. A more extreme test would be to pick up a marker and draw a line across the glass. If the oleophobic coating is still there, the line will erase itself, as the marker's trail breaks up and forms many little dots, which can be wiped off the screen; if the coating is gone, the line will stay on the glass (as you can probably imagine, we don't recommend this test, but you can do it for research purposes if you happen to have an old device lying around).

If you are feeling paranoid about losing your screen's pristine feel, or if it has managed to shed its oleophobic coat for one reason or another, you can always use a screen protector. Yes, many users have a poor experience with the films, as they tend to smudge up quite fast and feel unpleasant to the touch, but this is mostly because they have tried the cheaper ones on the market. The more expensive display defenders will have an oleophobic coating of their own and will be less annoying to the purists.



If you absolutely refuse adding a third party film between you and your smartphone, you can buy an oleophobic coating kit. It consists of a tube of the grease-repelling polymer and a soft rag, which is used to distribute the chemical evenly across the screen – not a hard thing to do at home. Be advised, however, that such an aftermarket appliance will not be the same as the factory-baked layer and will most probably last less than your original coating did. Still, if you've done it once, you can do it again in a few months, no biggie. Plus – some users report that after application, the material actually covers up some of those annoying, shallow, visible-only-under-certain-lighting scratches.


image sources: iFixit, Green Onions Supply

21 Comments
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posted on 13 Feb 2015, 09:31 4

1. Neros (Posts: 1016; Member since: 19 Dec 2014)


Buy a screen protector and you don't have to worry about anything.

posted on 13 Feb 2015, 11:07 2

2. jokensy (unregistered)


Have you read the article to the end!?

posted on 13 Feb 2015, 12:21 2

5. strudelz100 (Posts: 644; Member since: 20 Aug 2014)


I work with Aluminum every day and metal shavings don't even scratch Gorilla Glass 3.

Great job throwing your money away.

posted on 15 Feb 2015, 02:10 1

12. g2a5b0e (Posts: 3776; Member since: 08 Jun 2012)


Read up on what kind of things can scratch Gorilla Glass & you'll realize how dumb your comment is.

posted on 13 Feb 2015, 21:58

9. mixedfish (Posts: 1326; Member since: 17 Nov 2013)


Buying plastic screen protectors is even MORE reason to have a Oleophobic coating.

posted on 13 Feb 2015, 11:32

3. Tejas9 (Posts: 95; Member since: 02 Feb 2015)


Hmmm... use your gadgets neatly will help. Reapplying the coating helps too.

posted on 13 Feb 2015, 13:28

6. mike2959 (Posts: 576; Member since: 08 Oct 2011)


Micro fiber and a drop of water. Done.

posted on 13 Feb 2015, 20:19

7. Enddo (Posts: 53; Member since: 26 May 2014)


With as many germs that collect on our phones, no, I will be using more than just a microfiber cloth and a drop of water :p

posted on 14 Feb 2015, 08:46

10. uRiBiTo666 (Posts: 55; Member since: 02 Jun 2013)


Yep. It works great for me. And the water helps catch dust, so it prevents scratching the glass as you wipe it.

posted on 13 Feb 2015, 20:59

8. xondk (Posts: 1904; Member since: 25 Mar 2014)


Well there is the whole new laser thing, though granted only works directly on metal right now, but could be cool if a physical microstructure could be added to the screen as well, making it water repellent and such

posted on 14 Feb 2015, 10:23 2

11. kevin91202 (Posts: 599; Member since: 08 Jun 2014)


Honest question: Do the PA writers actually know English? I counted twenty en dashes in this article. Who in the world would use an en dash that many times? Not surprisingly, in every case, the en dashes were used incorrectly. This website tries so hard to be "American," yet can't seem to follow conventional American writing conventions. (I'm certain nobody noticed since most of the readers on this website are not American.)

posted on 25 Feb 2015, 02:54

17. VoicelessV (Posts: 17; Member since: 08 Jul 2014)


Conventional American writing conventions conventionally aside, do you know what a conventional en dash conventionally is?

posted on 15 Feb 2015, 05:38 1

13. duartix (Posts: 311; Member since: 01 Apr 2014)


Amazing really PA. Well done.
You manage to say in the same article not to use alchool based cleaning products and to use a marker to test the coating.
Brilliant.

posted on 25 Feb 2015, 02:52 1

16. VoicelessV (Posts: 17; Member since: 08 Jul 2014)


From the article, just after the marker part:
"(as you can probably imagine, we don't recommend this test, but you can do it for research purposes if you happen to have an old device lying around)"

So, are you fking retarded, or are you retarded as a fking fk?

posted on 22 Feb 2015, 12:54

14. OpTiKaWn (Posts: 10; Member since: 30 Oct 2011)


Yeah don't buy a cheap screen proctor... like the soft ones. They have actual real glass ones now. The down side is the good ones will run u $40 at the cheapest & most go for around $50 but we'll worth it. The best ones I have ever used are INVISIBLE SHIELD made my ZAGG. They come in standard and mirrored. They are real scratch resistant tempered glass with another screen protection layer on the bottom and a oil resistant nanotechnology coating on top so it's a nice layered glass and very thin. Also has life time warranty u just order a new one when it comes u send the broken or damaged one back with no down time.

posted on 22 Feb 2015, 13:02

15. OpTiKaWn (Posts: 10; Member since: 30 Oct 2011)


O yeah forgot I have one on my NOTE 4 and it's real nice. Even though the NOTE 4 really don't need one because it's 1 of only 2 phones as of now thay uses the super new GORILLA GLASS 4 witch is around %80 present stronger than GORILLA GLASS 3 and way way way more scratch resistant. And if u were wondering what the other phone is with the GORILLA GLASS 4 it's the Samsung Galaxy ALPHA and as of now thay and the NOTE 4 are the only SAMSUNG phones thay use metal for the frames the galaxy S6 comes out. And notice I said just those 2 because the GALAXY NOTE 4 EDGE does not use metal it is all plastic and alot of people get thay mixed up.

posted on 21 Apr 2016, 09:40

18. Olexijl (Posts: 2; Member since: 21 Apr 2016)


Hi,

I have heard oleophobic coating can make lung cancer... Is it true?

Besides, I own Note 4 and purchased tempered glass for it which says it has oleophobic coating on it. Is it dangerous for health?

Here a tempered glass for Note 4:

posted on 21 Apr 2016, 09:47

19. Olexijl (Posts: 2; Member since: 21 Apr 2016)


Look on Amazon.com for iloome Screenmate Light for Note 4.

posted on 05 Sep 2016, 12:57

20. mikesmith0902 (Posts: 3; Member since: 23 May 2015)


A very useful and informative article regarding oleophobic coating. If you are willing to spend big money on a smartphone surely you would want to protect it. I NEVER put a phone in my pockets, I've seen people pull a new iPhone out of their pockets with scratches all over it which would drive me crazy. I always protect the back of my phone with a tpu gel case and have a screen protector fitted on the front. Fitting screen protectors is a nightmare so I travel 60 miles to a Chinese cellphone shop where they fit them perfectly. I've spent a lot of time in Asia and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly and perfectly shops fit screen protectors in that part of the world so I figured a Chinese cellphone shop might be the answer to the problem and it most certainly was. As far as I am concerned a screen protector is a must, not to protect against scratches, but more to protect the oleophobic coating from wearing off as explained in the article. I use a stylus rather than fingers on my screen and I've ruined two expensive smartphones within one month of use because the stylus has worn away the oleophobic coating and left large unsightly blotches on the screen where the coating has worn away. For those who put phones in their pockets with keys and coins and don't mind the odd scratch then this wont be a worry but I'm mega protective of my tech and do everything I can to protect it. In fact just one protector is usually all I need for the lifetime of the device because I do my best to keep that scratch free too and saves a 60 mile journey every time to get a new one fitted. Laugh about it as much as you like but there's no need to ruin an expensive smartphone with just some forethought and careful handling and to protect the oleophobic coating from wearing off.

posted on 03 Oct 2016, 02:15

22. CrossVXM (Posts: 12; Member since: 24 Sep 2014)


Try Nacodex screen protectors. They're affordable (cheaper in 2 or 3 packs) and sell from the US on Amazon. Stylus for smartphones are generally a bad idea, and pockets aren't all that bad as long as you know what goes in them. I use a soft TPU case for my Xiaomi Mi Max with a tight fit so that tiny particles don't slide their way in (they WILL case very minor scratches, but I'm a big baby when it comes to the most smallest of blemishes) and a tempered glass. Unfortunately, Nacodex doesn't make curved fitting glass, so the edges pop up (similar to cheap tempered glass for the latest iPhone's "2.5D" glass) and it looks annoying, but not a single particle of pocket debris has gotten inside. I don't like big cases, or dust/waterproof cases due to the fact that they can reduce the microphone's efficiency, so I always use this combination on any phone I have (as long as its available). I work with aluminum, so its debris easily makes it in my pocket (even though I always clear out my pockets even of lint to avoid problems). So far never have had a single scratch this way.

posted on 03 Oct 2016, 02:04

21. CrossVXM (Posts: 12; Member since: 24 Sep 2014)


Oleophobic coating kits generally do not last more than a month and are very easily removed with the simplest of wipes. I recommend a tempered glass screen protector. Most will include it as mentioned here, some say "nano coating" which is basically the same concept. However, most aren't as good as the one most smartphone manufacturers include on their devices. The best ones are Zagg and Spigen tempered glass which have the best quality coating to ensure smooth touch and easy cleaing, but their device choices are limited. Second for most smartphones is Nacodex. They have tempered glass for phones like Xiaomi and Oppo, and do a decent job with the coatinf as compared to many other weird brand tempered glass manufacturers. But the coating is very sensitive and must be wiped strictly with dry, soft cotton and you don't want your sweat to kill it either.

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