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How to Deal With Dirty Money and Hidden Credit Card Germs

Avoid bringing bacteria home

person holding a credit card

Dirty money has never been a more literal term. Researchers say that 1 in every 12 bank cards has fecal bacteria on it. One in seven bills are contaminated, too. So when you head out shopping, you might want to bring along a bottle of hand sanitizer.


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Alan Taege, MD, a doctor who treats infectious diseases, says that money and other things that get touched multiple times by different people are likely to pick up all kinds of germs.

“We pass credit cards from our hands to someone else, back and forth, and it’s not at all unusual for the cards to be contaminated with bacteria,” he says.

Bacteria spread fast, and cell phones and handbags also are hot spots for germs, experts say.

3 simple tips to avoid getting sick

Dr. Taege says you can decrease your chances of getting sick while you shop you by doing the following:

  1. Wipe down your credit cards after using them.
  2. Wash your hands as much as possible.
  3. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a secondary option to soap and water.

Alcohol-based sanitizers “may not be perfect, but they help,” he says.

Also, try to avoid touching your eyes and your mouth while shopping. You allow bacteria entry to the inside of your body when you touch your eyes and mouth Dr. Taege says.

How we know about these germs

In a 2012 study, researchers at Queen Mary University in London swabbed the hands, money, and credit cards of nearly 300 people.

They found bacteria on the hands of 11% of the people, on 8% of the credit cards, and on 6% of the bills they tested.

The organisms they found included staphylococcal “staph” bacteria, which are responsible for many infections, from mild to serious. They also found fecal matter that comes from stool in the gastrointestinal tract.

This is why it’s important to be mindful of germs, especially during the busy holiday shopping season.


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