Can you get coronavirus from your wallet?

Are we at risk of catching the virus through cash or the cards in our wallet? This guide explains how to clean your cards and wallet without damaging them.
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Brown wallet with cards

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has most of us practicing social distancing and proper hygiene by washing our hands regularly and disinfecting surfaces in our homes to stem the spread of the virus.? But what about our money? Are we at risk of catching the virus through cash or the cards in our wallet?

How long can coronavirus live on surfaces?

As with any virus, the coronavirus spreads when a person infected with it coughs or sneezes, and those respiratory droplets land on another person in close contact who touches their face or eyes. 

It's also possible to get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it. That's why the NHS recommends that you wash your hands regularly and wipe down items and surfaces that you use frequently.  

How to clean your credit and debit cards

Although the chances of catching coronavirus through your credit or debit cards is not as high as through human interaction, according to the New England Journal of Medicine research has shown that it can live on plastic for up to 72 hours.

It is therefore theoretically possible for the virus to be transmitted from one card to another, or through card machine terminals.

To clean your cards without damaging them follow these steps:

  • Wash your hands before disinfecting credit cards for 20 seconds.

  • First use a rubber eraser to clean the strip of your bank card. This reduces build up of bacteria that may have grown over time.

  • Then use an antibacterial wipe to wipe down the whole card. 

  • Alternatively, if you don’t have an antibacterial wipe, you can use a damp cloth and soap - again for 20 seconds just like you would wash your hands.

  • Leave to dry on a clean surface before putting back into your wallet.

Do I need to clean my wallet as well?

If you’re cleaning your cards, it makes sense to do the same with the wallet or purse you use to store them in case the virus is living in your wallet.

Here’s how to clean your wallet without damaging it:

  • Remove everything from inside your wallet/purse, credit cards, debit cards, receipts, business cards- the lot!

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds before cleaning.

  • The best way to clean your wallet, both for hygiene purposes, and to ensure it doesn’t get damaged is to hand wash it- never put it through the washing machine, as it is likely to cause damage. 

  • Use a damp tower, or cloth and wipe it down with warm soap and water. 

  • If you have saddle soap, you should use that to clean your wallet. Alternatively, use one low in alkaline or one which is unscented.

  • To ensure you get to all the corners and inserts of your wallet — using a cotton bud will help to ensure you don’t miss areas which are harder to get to. 

  • Allow it to dry naturally on a clean surface at room temperature. Be sure to avoid using anything such as a hair dryer or radiator, as this could ruin the condition of your wallet/purse.

What about cash?

In 2018 teamed up with the London Metropolitan University which conducted a study to test the amount of bacteria on our cash, which revealed some shocking results. A similar study by the NBCI found a whole host of active microbes on paper money, the most common of which were Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella species, and Escherichia coli. Talking about the change people carry in their wallets, they could be teeming with the penicillin-resistant superbug S. aureus.

The experts at Fantastic Cleaning Services have commented, saying “In brief, money can hang onto harmful germs that can be spread by hand. And that's how easy it can be for someone infected with a virus to spread it to everyone around -  It just takes a touch. 

How long bacteria live on surfaces depends on the pathogen organism. Take that into account and don’t overlook the risk.

As we’ve made the full switch of all our banknotes to polymer in the UK, we are less at risk of contracting COVID-19 through cash than other parts of the world. 

However, as with other surfaces, coronavirus can still live on polymer. Scientists believe this to be six to 24 hours, and advise using contactless where possible.

Those who do carry cash should take steps to ensure it is bacteria free, and use gloves if available within the process.

British banknotes are extremely durable, and can be submerged in warm water and soap to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned. Alternatively, you can clean them with an antibacterial wipe if you’re out and about. If you are concerned about using cash, you can compare credit cards and find some of the best deals

About Salman Haqqi

Salman is our personal finance editor with over 10 years’ experience as a journalist. He has previously written for Finder and regularly provides his expert view on financial and consumer spending issues for local and national press such as The Express, Travel Daily, and The Daily Star.

View Salman Haqqi's full biography here or visit the press centre for our latest news.

About Salman Haqqi (personal finance expert)

View Salman Haqqi (personal finance expert)'s full biography here or visit the press centre for our latest news.