What’s living in your wallet?

Image of $20 and $5 bills in hand

The phrase ‘dirty money’ takes on a whole new meaning with the results of a recent study. It looks like all our money could stand to be laundered!

The Dirty Money Project

The study, called the Dirty Money Project, was conducted by New York University researchers. They analyzed the DNA on 80 one-dollar bills from a Manhattan bank.1 You might be very surprised at the varieties of DNA they found on dollar bills. They included DNA from bacteria, viruses, horses, dogs, and even a white rhino.

3,000 types of bacteria

Bacteria are the simplest of creatures that are considered to be alive. These single-celled microbes are everywhere.2 And the researchers identified more than 3,000 kinds on the money they studied.

Of all the DNA they found, the most common was from the bacteria that cause acne. Many of the other tiny organisms they found were harmless. In fact, some of them may even protect the skin from dangerous bacteria.1 But there were many more that can be harmful, including bacteria that cause the following3..

  • Skin infections
  • Antibiotic-resistant infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Food-borne illness
  • Food poisoning
  • Gastric ulcers
  • Diphtheria
  • Anthrax

It’s important to note the study shows that bacteria can thrive on money. It doesn’t show how big a role money may play in spreading diseases.

Would a different material keep our money cleaner?

From rupees to euros, paper money is one of the most frequently passed items in the world. So concern about germs on money isn’t just an issue for Americans. A 2012 study at Queen Mary University of London found very disturbing results. Six percent of English bank notes tested had levels of an intestinal bacteria equal to that on toilet seats!3

A United States one-dollar bill is printed on paper that’s a blend of cotton and linen. To make cash more durable, some countries have started using other materials. Canada and several others, for example, use sheets of flexible plastic film. One study found that less bacteria, in general, grew on these plastic bills. But another study reported that microbes live longer on them.3 So, there’s no definitive answer yet about which is cleaner.

The human touch just makes the problem worse. Bacteria feed on the waxy residue of skin and oils that builds up on bills.

What can you do right now?

The best protection against the germs that live on money is pretty simple. Try to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. That’s where the bacteria are most likely to get into you body. Wash your hands often, especially after handling cash.4

And whatever you do, don’t lick your fingers to help separate bills when you’re counting cash!

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