When I hear sanitizing RF devices, I would ordinarily think of removing company confidential information before selling or recycling a device that had reached end-of-life. Data sanitation is the practice of formatting and re-writing the same sectors and blocks of a mass-storage drive 3 or more times. This article is not about the fundamentals of sound data leak prevention. Instead, today we will be discussing how to ensure your RF devices are not a conduit to transmit viruses, particularly COVID-19.

According to the CDC, one of the best ways to prevent the spread of communicable diseases is to avoid being exposed to them. That can be challenging in the workplace and on equipment used by multiple people and across multiple operating shifts. There are several factors to review before beginning a sanitization program in your warehouse or distribution center. We will cover what sanitization is, how to ensure you won’t damage your equipment in the process, what disinfectants to use, and how to use them.

Facility worker using an RF scanner in a distribution center.

What is sanitization and how does it compare to sterilization? Sanitization is the process by which microorganisms are killed by approximately 99.99%. Do not confuse that with sterilization whereby all microorganisms are killed. These microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts, and other organic material. The duration of contact with the sanitizing agent has a direct correlation to its ability to sanitize an object or surface. If the duration of the contact is insufficient, you are merely “cleaning”, which is not sanitizing.

The next thing to consider is the object or surface you need to sanitize. For sensitive electronic equipment, you should refer to the owner’s manual to identify the “IP” rating of the device. IP, which stands for Ingress Protection, is a rating system to indicate the device’s ability to withstand exposure to solids and liquids. An example of an IP rating is IP65, where the first numeric digit is the level of protection against solids entering and the second numeric digit is the level of protection against liquids entering. Many of today’s RF devices from the leading vendors have the highest level of solids protection, a 6 on their scale. The liquids protection varies by vendor and by the model used. To ensure that the device can be sprayed with a liquid cleaner or disinfectant, you need to understand the second numeric digit of the IP rating for your equipment.

Here are the IP ratings for both solids and liquids:


Level Object size protected against Effective against
0 Not protected No protection against contact and ingress of objects
1 >50mm Any large surface of the body, such as the back of the hand, but no protection against deliberate contact with a body part.
2 >12.5mm Fingers or similar objects.
3 >2.5mm Tools, thick wires, etc.
4 >1mm Most wires, screws, etc.
5 Dust Protected Ingress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it must not enter in sufficient quantity to interfere with the satisfactory operation of the equipment; complete protection against contact.
6 Dust Tight No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact.



Level Object size protected against Effective against
0 Not protected
1 Dripping water Dripping water (vertically falling drops) shall have no harmfull effect.
2 Dripping water when tilted up to 15° Vertically dripping water shall have no harmful effect when the enclosure is tilted at an angle up to 15° from its normal position.
3 Spraying water Water falling as a spray at any angle up to 60° from the vertical shall have no harmful effect.
4 Splashing water Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect.
5 Water jets Water projected by a nozzle (6.3mm) against enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.
6 Powerful water jets Water projected in powerful jets (12.5mm nozzle) against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.


Now that you know the level of liquid penetration your equipment can withstand, you can begin to select the appropriate disinfectant. The CDC suggests most EPA-registered household disinfectants will work but warns to use the best choice for the surface. The common surfaces of RF devices are simply plastic and most commonly of the ABS plastic variety. This is good news, as it holds up well to many varieties of cleaning and sanitizing agents, including alcohol and bleach. The CDC recommends alcohol-based solutions, either spray or wipes, need to be at least 70% alcohol to be effective. They also recommend a bleach solution that is easy to make by diluting 1/3 cup of bleach into a gallon of water.

Lastly, depending on the liquid protection rating of the devices you are sanitizing, you could spray these solutions directly on the surface of the device or you may opt to spray on a cleaning towel. Either way, be sure to clean each touch surface, including displays and between keys. Note: ABS plastic will not hold up well to acetone cleaners or pumice, which is present in many scrubber pads – the best choice is a soft cotton cloth.

While this article specifically relates to RF devices, be sure to sanitize other high touch surfaces on Material Handling Equipment. Refer to the owner’s manual to understand the surface materials and the IP rating of those devices.