Dirty money – killer bugs living on your cash and which denominations are worst

We are all familiar with the term dirty money, but normally we’d use it to talk about money laundering or being paid off by crooks to do something untoward.

But the truth is that the money we handle on a daily basis is absolutely filthy too.

In fact a new study from US loan firm LendEDU has revealed that all too often our lucre really is absolutely filthy.

LendEDU used a scientific device which tests for bacteria on any given surface, and ran the rule over credit and debit cards, as well as various notes and coins.

The device then generates a ‘germ score’. The higher the score, the dirtier the surface.

According to the people behind the technology, a restaurant needs to have a germ score of 10 or less in order to be considered sanitary.

Which rather puts into context how dirty our money really is, with one of the payment cards tested generating a score of an appalling 1,206.

While one particular card LendEDU tested was about as clean as a used loo, even on average cards came back with a typical germ score of 285. Interestingly the front side was generally cleaner, with an average score of 252, compared to 317 on the magnetic side.

What’s more credit cards were on average muckier, with a typical score of 314 compared to 243 for debit cards.

It wasn’t much better with physical notes either, with an average germ score of 160. Interestingly lower denominations were found to be the dirtiest, perhaps because they are handled and passed around more frequently.

Coins were, by comparison, the cleanest form of currency with a germ score of 136 – still 13 times higher than a food establishment can get away with.

So don’t go eating your dinner off a pile of £1 coins any time soon.

Could money kill you?

A study by Money.co.uk and London Metropolitan University last year looked at specifically which bugs pop up on our cash.

Of 36 samples the team took from a random selection of coins and notes, a total of 19 different bacteria were discovered, including two potentially life-threatening forms associated with superbugs such as MRSA.

Listeria, a life-threatening airborne bacteria was also discovered.

Dr Paul Matewele, Professor of Microbiology at London Metropolitan University, commented: “People who have compromised immune systems could be most at risk from handling dirty money – if you're visiting people in hospital who might be vulnerable to infection, you could unknowingly transfer bacteria off your cash which is resistant to antibiotics.”

Cleaning up your cash

So what can you do about the dirty money you come into contact with every day?

Let’s be honest, most of us aren’t about to start polishing our pennies. But it’s still a really good idea to take some precautions in order to lower the risks of catching something unseemly as a result of handling some cash.

A very simple step is ensuring that you wash your hands after you touch any form of money, whether it’s your cards or cash.

It may also be worth giving your debit and credit cards a cursory wipe with an anti-bacterial wipe every now and again too.

Otherwise, you might prefer to start using digital payments more often, such as Google Pay. After all, at least you know exactly where your phone has been. It’s probably still worth giving it – and your hands – a good clean afterwards, just in case.

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