As the Coronavirus Pandemic Spreads, Is It Safe to Use ATMs?

LendEDU took a trip through New York to scientifically test for germs found on ATMs. The results may keep you away.

Hand of a man with a credit card, using an ATM. Man using an atm machine with his credit card. Addoro / Shutterstock

With over 400,000 cases and more than 18,000 deaths worldwide, the coronavirus has already inflicted terrible damage on the world that will get worse.

Cases are spreading in the U.S., specifically New York City and the surrounding area.

COVID-19 has forced much of the U.S. population into lockdown and changed our everyday lives. People have prepared for the pandemic by stocking up on groceries and supplies, while some have stocked up on cash.

But, is it safe to be using the ATMs that dispense those dollars? COVID-19 is wildly contagious and just think about all the dirty, unknown hands that have been touching those ATM keypads and touch screens.

Financial website LendEDU conducted scientific research to find out just how many germs exist on ATMs; the data could help determine if these machines are safe to be using during this global pandemic.

After testing 20 different ATMs throughout New York, this is what we found.

Average NYC ATM dirtier than subway pole, bathroom

To conduct this research, LendEDU utilized the Hygiena SystemSURE Plus, a state-of-the-art scientific device that tests for germs on a given surface. A swab is taken of that surface, the swab is then placed in the device, and a reading is provided shortly thereafter.

We like to refer to this reading as the “germ score,” and a higher germ score indicates a dirtier surface. For reference, a germ score of 10 or less is recommended for food establishment surfaces.

20 different New York City ATMs were tested for germs, in addition to various things around the city, and our results looked like this:

While New York City ATMs weren’t quite as dirty as certain things, like an escalator in Penn Station or parking meter, they were covered in more germs than things like a bathroom handle in Penn Station and a subway pole.

All things considered, the average ATM germ score of 286 is far higher than the score of 10 that is recommended for food establishment surfaces and should give folks pause for concern.

Comparing all 20 ATMs against each other

Here’s what the individual germ scores for all 20 ATMs in New York City looked like:

What’s the dirtiest part of an ATM?

After all 20 ATMs in New York were tested for germs, we wanted to see what the dirtiest part of an ATM was. The card reader? The touchscreen? The keypad?

To find out, we averaged together the results for each part of each ATM, and this is what we found:

It turns out that the card reader is the dirtiest component of an ATM, with an average germ score of 423. The average keypad had a germ score of 267, the second dirtiest part, while the cleanest part was the touchscreen, with an average germ score of 168.

How should you pay for things right now?

First and foremost, you should not panic if you do not have cash on hand, nor should you rush to the nearest ATM to stock up on hard currency. The reason some people were suggesting this was because there was a fear that ATMs might run out of money during the COVID-19 pandemic due to consumers making massive cash withdrawals.

However, the Federal Reserve has ensured banks will stay well funded so that this does not happen. Plus, a bank is still probably the safest place for your money rather than under your mattress.

Besides that, there are a plethora of ways to make transactions in 2020 other than cash payments. Credit and debit cards will still suffice, smartphones have tap-to-pay technology, or you can download a payment processing app like Venmo, Zelle, or PayPal. Finally, most transactions can be completed through an online payment portal if that option exists for you.

A detailed methodology for this report can be found at the bottom of this page.

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