How To Clean Your Credit Cards – Forbes Advisor


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As Covid-19 has spread across the globe, cleaning frequently touched items like door knobs, light switches and car handles has become more important than ever. It might not be the first most-touched item, but credit cards are often handled many times a day and, like doorknobs and light switches, they should be sanitized to help prevent the spread of germs.

How to Clean a Credit Card

Even the chips and magnetic strips found on the front and back of cards are designed to be water-resistant. Thankfully, specialty products are not needed to keep a credit card clean.

Many credit cards are made of PVC, a special type of plastic. But not all are: Check with the credit card issuer to find out what material the card is made of. This will likely determine which cleaning product will be most effective and safe for the card. Plastic remains more tolerant to heavy cleaning supplies, while titanium may need special treatment.

Most household cleaning products will do the trick:

  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Antibacterial kitchen counter spray
  • Alcohol-based liquids like isopropyl alcohol
  • Hand soap
  • Dish soap

Household cleaners can be sprayed on a paper towel, clean rag or fresh cotton ball instead of spraying directly onto the credit card. Rubbing alcohol should also be poured first on a cleaning tool rather than on the card itself. After applying cleaner, gently wipe the card front and back with the paper towel, rag or cotton ball. There’s no need to scrub profusely or with lots of elbow grease—in fact, rubbing too hard can wipe away ink on some cards. A 10 to 20 second wipe down should be enough, depending on the strength of the cleaner. Allow the card to dry completely before putting it away in a wallet or purse.

Cleaning a credit card using dish soap or hand soap can be similar to washing hands. Lightly wet the card with running water and use a small dollop of soap to lather and wash the card. Rinse and let dry completely. It might be triggering to hear it now, but: cards, like hands, should be washed for at least 20 seconds.

If frequent washing leads to a fading signature, simply re-sign the card when needed.

Don’ts for Cleaning Credit Cards

Although cleaning a credit card seems like a simple process, here are a few important things to remember:

  • Don’t scrub too hard, especially over magnetic strips or chips. Cards can be damaged during cleaning.
  • Don’t use an abrasive sponge that could wear down the magnetic strips or wipe out the card number over time.
  • Don’t soak the card in corrosive liquid like rubbing alcohol. It’s better to apply rubbing alcohol to some kind of wiping material before applying it to the card itself.
  • Don’t forget to wash hands after handling a credit card or any form of payment. All money is exposed to people up and down the payment chain.

How Often to Clean Credit Cards

It’s best to wash a credit card after each use, especially for those in especially high-risk categories. Otherwise, once a day to once a week may be sufficient depending on the method, frequency and location a card is used.

A single credit card runs through a strip or chip machine or is taken by a cashier, server or bartender as often as a few or more times per day. Obviously being the only person touching a credit card remains safest, but even touching the card to the swiping machine can spread germs. Often, though, it’s necessary to hand over the card to someone else. Determining how often to clean a card will depend on conditions, but regularly cleaning credit cards is a useful way to avoid spreading germs at home or in stores.

How to Minimize Contact Between Credit Cards and Surfaces

Minimizing contact among a credit card and surfaces found in stores or restaurants remains preferable, regardless of how often it’s cleaned.

Where possible, use contactless pay instead of swiping or inserting a chip. This means that the cardholder taps or holds the card over the machine without touching it. Most modern cards offer contactless pay. The Contactless Symbol will be printed on the card—it vaguely resembles a WiFi symbol. An updated card design with contactless pay can usually be requested from the issuer by contacting the number on the back of the card.

Shopping online can also alleviate any concerns over credit card contamination. The best way to minimize risk of infection by others is to never leave the house at all.

Some retailers accept mobile pay. Mobile pay systems link card numbers to the cardholder’s phone and allow touch-less payment via mobile device. In other words, payments can be electronically sent to the retailer as a no-contact transaction.

Bottom Line

Sanitizing credit cards keeps them clean and prevents any potential transfer of Covid-19 or other bacteria or virus. Most household products will properly clean credit cards. Always wipe the cards gently to protect the chip and magnetic strip. Minimize contact between credit cards and public surfaces by using contactless or mobile pay.

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