The bad news is that you probably touch it every single day; the good news is that you can clean it.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated July 23, 2019
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You probably know that the money you carry around with you can get pretty grungy. You have no idea how many people have touched it or done unspeakable things with those coins and bills, after all, so you probably handle that cash with the knowledge that you’re going to want to wash your hands or work through a wallet cleaning checklist soon. Your credit card and debit card, though? Do you even know how to clean credit cards? Probably not—and that’s a bit of a problem.

A recent investigation from finance site LendEDU looked at the amount of germs credit and debit cards carry with them, and the results are rather foul. According to a sanitation monitoring device that measures the amount of bacteria on a particular surface to calculate a germ score, credit cards are dirtier (and germier) than dollar bills and coins. The cards even beat out public train station bathrooms and subway poles—that’s a lot of invisible grime. LendEDU’s average germ score for credit cards was 285; surfaces in restaurant kitchens should have a germ score of 10 or less to be considered sanitary. Eating off something with a surface germ score of 10 is defined as unsanitary, yet you carry something more than twenty times as dirty around in your pocket. Ick.

You could shake off these findings; it’s not as though you eat using a credit or debit card, after all. But you do often use that little piece of plastic to pay for lunch, say, during which you’d begin eating (maybe even with your hands and fingers) immediately after touching the card. And you probably touch the card at least one time, if not multiple times, each day, meaning you’re passing those germs on to almost everything you touch. Those supposedly dirty coins you rarely reach for are looking a lot better now, aren’t they?

Fortunately, your favorite piece of plastic can be saved. You can learn how to clean credit cards. Think about it: You clean your hands and your shoes and your phone, right? Why not clean your cards every once in a while? The process is simpler than you might think (sort of like figuring out how to clean a Keurig), and it won’t mess with your spending habits or ruin your go-to travel rewards credit card.

How to clean credit cards

The easiest option is to take the techy route. UV light sanitizers—such as PhoneSoap—clean phones without damaging them, killing 99.9 percent of bacteria on the surfaces; they can do the same thing for your credit card or debit card. (Clean your keys and coins while you’re at it.)

For the old school route, get an eraser and a damp towel. Wipe the card clean with the towel, then take an eraser and gently rub the strip on the back of the card. This option will remove build-up, but if you want a true bacteria-killing clean, use an anti-bacterial wipe all over the card. Give it time to sit—contact time and all that—and make sure the card is completely dry before slipping it back into your wallet. Repeat with all those germ-covered debit cards, IDs, membership cards, and more.