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How Sanitary is your Currency?

When taking out a few bucks to pay for a smoothie, you’re probably not thinking too much about where your money has been. Money is such a standard part of daily life that we rarely give it a second thought (except for when we’re thinking about how much of it we have). However, bills travel all over the country and are handled by hundreds or thousands of people. When each person touches a bill, there’s a chance that some sort of germ will transfer onto the paper money.

This concept isn’t a new one. The New York Times reported on the possibility that large numbers of bacteria lived on bills, and the story got printed — in 1904. More than 100 years later, things haven’t changed much, as money can essentially be described as filthy. So what exactly is lurking on the surfaces of our cash?

Money’s Lifespan

We already know some of the cautionary zones that are typically covered in germs — toilet flushers, doorknobs, keypads, etc. That’s because these items are continually being touched throughout the day by dozens of strangers, and everything that was on their hands has been transferred to the bill.

Money is no exception — in fact, its rate of travel makes it pretty, well, gross. One of the most well-traveled dollar bills on was tracked from Ohio to Kentucky to Tennessee to Florida to Texas to Louisiana to Utah and to Michigan, all in just three years. Money can go from your hands into a cash register at a fast food store, and then into another customer’s hands, who eventually drops the bill in a gutter. It is later found by someone stopping for gas on his way to Georgia. Really, there are no limits to where money can end up.


If money switches hands so quickly, then it can theoretically carry harmful bacteria from one person to another. Studies have been done to figure out this hypothetical situation.  In a 2002 study, pathogens were found on 94% of the bills tested. Another study set out to see how long the flu virus could last on a  bill. Surprisingly, the flu could live on a dollar for 10 days and even survive up to 17 days.

There is good news, though. The flu virus has been known to only live on skin for up to 5 minutes, according to a study, so just try to refrain from rubbing bills around your nose and mouth, and you’ll probably be okay. The important thing to remember is to wash your hands often and if you do touch money, don’t touch your mouth or nose afterward. This is how you’ll actually catch whatever’s on the money. Otherwise, it’s unlikely that the bacteria found on cash will penetrate your skin.

Fecal Matter

Yes, you read this sub-header correctly. Fecal matter has been found on bills. In fact, money can supposedly be more germ-infested than a toilet in your own house. That fact seems like quite the red flag, and it should. Pathogens like staphylococcus have been found on U.S. currency, and the U.S. is also one of the most likely countries to have E. coli — which causes some pretty unpleasant health problems like food poisoning.

However, there is good news regarding the matter. Even though U.S. money isn’t clean by any standards, there are six other countries with filthier money (so at least the U.S. is doing relatively okay?). Also, practicing good, hygienic habits like the ones described in the previous section will help ward off everything found on money.


The rumors are true — drugs can actually be found on money. Some research shows that 9 out of 10 bills in the U.S. and Canada have traces of cocaine on them. Drugs get on the money during drug deals and when people use the bills to snort them. Then, if the bill gets put into bank counting machines, cocaine crystals end up on other bills in the mechanism, which is probably why there’s cocaine on such a high number of bills in the U.S.

Interestingly, researchers are using the fact that only 67% of bills had cocaine on them in 2007 pointing to the possibility that more people in the U.S. are using cocaine. Regardless, very small amounts of it are hanging out on your money.


Clearly, money isn’t the most sanitary type of object out there. However, it most likely won’t affect you too much if you use proper hygiene and are careful not to touch your nose and mouth after handling cash. If you’re still nervous about the germs that could spread, use coins more often (which have been shown to not carry as many germs) or switch to credit cards, which are conveniently only handled by you!

Guest Post by UFXMarkets