How to clean your credit cards

Mar 24, 2020

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When we talk about the prevention of spreading germs, there are a few things that immediately come to mind — washing your hands, disinfecting common surfaces and practicing social distancing whenever possible. But there are a few everyday items that may not be top of mind when we consider what we should regularly clean, including what’s in our wallets.

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Every time we buy groceries, grab takeout or make any other purchase, we’ll more than likely touch our credit card to do so. Whether you’re tapping to pay, swiping your card or inserting the chip, that means your card is touching where hundreds or even thousands of cards have also touched recently.

How coronavirus spreads

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus is a respiratory virus that primarily spreads through droplets of saliva and mucus, which can be generated and spread when we sneeze, cough or even breathe and talk. It causes the disease COVID-19.

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But that doesn’t mean you have to be sneezed on to contract the virus. You can get these micro-droplets on your hands by touching surfaces an infected person has recently touched and then touching your face. Considering there are studies that say the average person touches their face 23 times an hour, consistently washing your hands and limiting the possibility of coming into contact with the virus at all is important.

If you’re using your credit card when you do have to go out for essentials like groceries, that’s another potential touchpoint.

A 2018 study by CreditCards.com and the University of Texas at Austin did find that while credit cards were host to a lot of bacteria and other potentially harmful microbes, they were unlikely to get a normal person sick. However, with research suggesting that the coronavirus can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces, such as a credit card, for up to nine days, it’s not a bad idea to add your credit cards and wallet to your list of things to disinfect.

How to clean your credit cards

Fortunately, disinfecting your credit cards isn’t a complicated process and you can do with household items.

The easiest way to clean your cards is by using the same technique you use for your hands: soap and warm water. Like washing your hands, you should lightly rub for at least 20 seconds. You can sing “Happy Birthday” twice through, or get more creative — Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” has a chorus that lasts 20 seconds, as does Beyonce’s “Love on Top.” I’m a fan of using the chorus to the song “My Shot” from Hamilton.

You can also use one of the EPA-approved disinfectants to use against COVID-19, which includes many household wipes and sprays such as Clorox. For the tech lover, you can also use a UV sterilizer, since UV rays kill viruses and bacteria.

Keep in mind that your signature may wash off the card when you use soap or a disinfectant. You can always resign the card if this happens, or simply avoid the signature box when wiping down the card.

Related reading: Dirty money: Could ditching cash keep you healthier this season?

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
Soap and water is a simple, effective way to clean your credit cards. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Will disinfectants hurt my credit card?

Short answer? No.

Credit cards, both plastic and metal, are made to be waterproof. Your card should also be able to withstand products such as bleach, vinegar or alcohol. I don’t recommend soaking your cards in any corrosive liquids, but a quick wipe-down with a Clorox wipe or a 20-second wash with some soap and water won’t render them useless.

Keeping your cards clean could help them stand the test of time. Dirt and grime can build up on your cards, which can scrape at EMV chips and magnetic strips. It’s not a good idea to scrub your cards with an abrasive of any kind, but a gentle cleaning can help keep dirt from building up while killing COVID-19 germs — two birds, one Clorox wipe.

Tips for using card readers and pin pads

Another potentially germy area is the card reader and pin pad that you use to make payments at stores. In the U.S., chip-and-signature is the most common authorization method for payments. This means that even if you have a contactless card, you might be required to use a stylus, your finger or a pen to sign your signature. Those surfaces have been touched by anyone who came before you.

Related: Airport kiosks are germier than toilets

There’s no need to go out and buy medical gloves for your grocery shopping excursions. You should leave the medical equipment such as gloves to the doctors, nurses and other “front lines” workers who are highly at-risk.

The best thing you can do is immediately disinfect your hands after you pay, and avoid touching your face (which is a best practice you should be following anyway).

Bottom line

For most people, your credit cards don’t pose too much of a threat. However, as COVID-19 continues to spread in communities throughout the U.S., it’s understandable to want to ensure you’re limiting exposure to the virus as much as possible — including by cleaning your credit cards.

Luckily, disinfecting your cards isn’t a complicated process. Good ole’ soap and water will do the job just fine, or you can use a disinfectant to gently wipe down your cards after you use them.

But remember, the best thing we can all do to stop the spread of this virus is to follow CDC and WHO recommendations, including practicing social distancing, regularly washing your hands (for at least 20 seconds) and avoiding touching your face.

Featured photo by mixetto/Getty Images

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