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There’s a lot of things you’d think twice about touching – public restroom doors, subway floors, garbage can lids, to name a few. But what about an ATM? When was the last time you really stopped to think about what you can potentially pick up from the ATM, aside from cash, of course?
We thought it was a question worth answering, and so earlier this year, LendEDU hit the streets of New York City armed with the Hygiena SystemSURE Plus, a handheld device that measures bacteria growth on any given surface. Using the device, we tested three popular ATM contact points: the keypad, touchscreen, and card reader.
Our testing took us from the high-traffic areas of Midtown and Times Square to the low-traffic areas around West Village. After a quick swab and a 15 second wait, we received a cleanliness core, which is based on the presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the universal unit of energy in all living cells. ATP is measured in relative light units (RLU), and the higher the RLU, the dirtier the surface.
Twenty ATMs later, we had our answer – one that may leave you reaching for the hand sanitizer.
Some ATMs Are Absolutely Filthy
It’s safe to say that most ATMs are harboring some unsavory funk, but if you’re looking for a specific point to avoid, you may want to approach the card reader with care. On average, the card reader was the dirtiest location, with one particular West Village ATM carrying a cleanliness score of 943 RLU (compared to the cleanest, which received a score of 53 RLU).
Next up, and perhaps not surprising considering how popular touch-technology has become, is the touch screen. The dirtiest touch screen award goes to Midtown/Times Square ATM 6, which received an RLU score of 627. The cleanest touchscreen, which was West Village ATM 2, had a commendable score of 30 RLU.
Finally, though the keypad often was the “cleanest” contact point, the dirtiest keypad, which was found at West Village ATM 5, had a score of 471 RLU. However, that doesn’t mean you need to completely avoid West Village keypads; West Village ATM 7 had a respectable score of 57 RLU.
ATMs in High Traffic Areas Much Dirtier Than ATMs in Low Traffic Areas
Higher traffic areas, like Times Square and Midtown, likely see a bit more action throughout the day, meaning more fingers are pressing, swiping, and leaving behind dirt, germs, and bacteria.
As you may assume, our findings found that, on average, ATMs in high traffic areas like Midtown and Times Square were dirtier, particularly when it came to the keypad. Overall, high traffic ATMs received a score of 303 RLU, while low traffic ATMs received an overall score of 269 RLU.
How Dirty Are ATMs Compared to Other Objects in New York City?
ATMs are pretty gross, but what about when compared to other objects in the Big Apple? The good news? On average, ATMs aren’t the dirtiest things in the city – a sentiment that hopefully helps you through your next cash withdrawal.
Instead, the award for overall “eww” factor goes to CitiBike handles (664 RLU), McDonald’s door handles (664 RLU) and subway ticket machines (599 RLU).
The bad news? ATMs are still dirtier than the Penn Station public bathroom handle (163 RLU). Plus, some individual ATM scores are still far dirtier than any New York City object tested, including those CitiBike handles. This is particularly true for the card readers at West Village ATM 6 (943 RLU) and Midtown/Times Square ATM 9 (858 RLU).
The Bottom Line
If you’re taking out cash, keep in mind that the ATM is a prime spot for germs, bacteria, and other types of grime to hang out. And surprisingly, this is even more true when it comes to the card reader, which ranked as the overall dirtiest contact point on ATMs.
While you probably don’t need to hit the inside teller each time you head to the bank, you may want to add a travel size hand sanitizer to your purse and key chain and avoid touching your face until you can suds up at a sink.
In his role at LendEDU, Mike uses data, usually from surveys and publicly-available resources, to identify emerging personal finance trends and tell unique stories. Mike's work, featured in major outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, provides consumers with a personal finance measuring stick and can help them make informed finance decisions.