Really Dirty Money
I was at a gas station the other day on my way out of town and needed something to drink, so I grabbed a water bottle, handed the clerk some money, and received two $1 bills as my change. As I grabbed the singles, I noticed that one bill seemed to be much crisper than the other $1 bill. While one bill was fresh-off-the-presses crisp, the other was soft and moist. I tried not to think about why as I put the bills in my wallet.
A $1 bill is one of the most common piece of legal tender printed in the United States, making up around 45% of all printed currency. According to the Federal Reserves, the $1 bill has a lifespan of 4.8 years, which means that that bill you used in your senior year in college could be the same bill you and your family just put in the church donation basket. For $5 and $10 bills, the shorter, while less-frequently used bills have a much longer lifespan, with $100 bills lasting 17.9 years.
While you may not be handling $100 bills very frequently, chances are you use the lesser currency quite often. Think about everything you do during the day – where you go, what you touch. Do you pick your nose? Do you scratch your butt? If you aren’t guilty of a little butt scratching, I can guarantee someone else is. Maybe it was the guy in front of you at the concession stand who just handed his $5 bill to the vendor, who gives it right back to you as change for your $20. Now his dirty money is in your wallet, as well as on the hands you’re using to hold your hot dog and beer.
In a 2002 study published in the Southern Medical Journal, researchers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio found that 94 percent of the 68 bills tested were contaminated with bacteria. While much of the bacteria was benign, 7 percent did harbor dangerous pathogens, including Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause infections such as pneumonia, and Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause skin and other infections. E. coli has also been found to be a common resident of the dollar bill, as well as a very illegal substance: cocaine.
These silent dangers pass from one person to another to another, unchecked. Who sterilizes money? You may find a $5 in the washing machine after you do some laundry, but I doubt you make the conscious decision to toss a $20 or two in with the “delicates”. Maybe you should, though. Printed money is pretty tough; it’s made up of about 75% cotton and 25% linen, which makes a trip in a washing machine less destructive than it would be for a regular piece of paper. Not only is currency durable, but so are the bacteria that live on them; try seventeen days!
These same substances and bacteria are present on change, as well. In many cases, coinage is even worse. While it’s reasonable for a coin to hang around for forty years, bills don’t usually last that long. Coins hang around for more time and have more circulation, exposing them to even more pathogens and bacteria. Find a penny, pick it up, right? Even if that penny was on a pet store floor where a dog just peed? Coin currency exposes us to the same risks as cash, but, fortunately, is easier to clean. There are plenty of tricks to add shine to old, collectible coins, but if you just want to disinfect for health reasons, it’s plenty easy. Soaking your coins in a plastic bag of warm water and soap can do the trick, as can rubbing them down with rubbing alcohol or a disinfectant wipe.
How many types of bacteria do you think the valet has? Or how clean do you think those dollars wrapped around a beer vender’s finger are? And dear lord, would you dare ask a stripper if she could break a $20 (I’m sure her G-string can hold plenty). You think you’re money isn’t dirty? Think again.