We’re typically more concerned about where our money goes than where it has been ― but new findings posted by financial education website LendEDU might make you reconsider.
The company on Tuesday released the results of an experiment testing more 40 debit and credit cards, 27 different bill denominations, and 10 coins for germs. Each payment method was swabbed with a handheld germ testing device and assigned a “germ score” to rank the item on the disgusting scale. The higher the score, the dirtier the item. And spoiler alert: Our money, like pretty much everything else in the world, is pretty dirty.
Somewhat surprisingly, credit cards took the top spot for dirtiest form of payment, with the front of the cards averaging a score of 285, and the back 317. The top card scored a whopping 1,206. For reference, a New York City subway pole scored a measly 68.
Cash didn’t fare much better, coming in with an average germ score of 160 ― just 3 points lower than the bathroom at Penn Station in New York. One $20 bill from 2009 scored a 633, while coins turned out to be the cleanest currency of all, averaging a germ score of 136.
It’s important to note that this study doesn’t appear to have been conducted in a lab or by trained researchers. The data isn’t published in an academic or scientific journal. It’s simply for informational purposes, so it should be taken lightly.
That aside, you might still be thinking about just how many times you’ve swiped, withdrawn or handled money recently and now want to make sure you promptly scurry to the bathroom to wash your hands. But you should know that at the end of the day, your money is no dirtier than other surfaces you touch all the time without ill effects. After all, we’re all basically covered in poop and seem to be doing just fine.
Kelly Reynolds, professor and chair at the University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health, pointed out to HuffPost that this is hardly the first revelation about money’s dirt factor. She recalled one study at her own lab that found 90% of bills tested were positive for fecal matter.
“Is this something to worry about? No,” Reynolds said. “I wouldn’t put money in my mouth, but typically you’re handling money with your hands, which are in a lot of places all day long. Wash your hands before they can become a route of transmission to your face, eyes, hands or mouth.”
Reynolds also suggested a good night’s sleep, reducing stress and eating well ― things that help overall health ― also help to fight off infection and make you less susceptible to bacteria.
Though paper money is porous and nearly impossible to disinfect, bacteria we are exposed to on dollar bills and elsewhere are just part of the human experience.
“We’re not all dropping dead,” Reynolds said. “It’s just a hazard that’s part of life. I just focus on washing my hands. If everyone was better about doing that we could reduce about 30% of all illnesses, if we just washed our hands at the proper times ― before you eat and before you prepare food.”
So go on, keep swiping, spending and handling your cash― just maybe use some of it to buy some hand soap.