ATM Keypads: Bacteria Heaven

Medically Reviewed

Like most of us, you probably go to an automated teller machine (ATM) when you need cash. But you might want to rethink using an ATM simply for the “yuck” factor when you learn about the traces of substances investigators found on the keypads of 66 ATMs in New York City.

Using cotton swabs, researchers from New York University collected gene markers from the keypads. Most of the bacteria they found were from normal human skin and household surfaces like TVs, pillows, restrooms, and kitchens.

They also found plenty of food microbes, including those from bony fish, mollusks, and chicken, suggesting that New Yorkers commonly carry residue from their meals on their hands. In fact, clusters of the same food microbes were found within certain neighborhoods, seemingly revealing the favorite dishes of local communities.

The study didn’t report whether ATM users could pick up any of those germs and become ill from them because the researchers couldn’t distinguish between active and dormant microbes. But just to be sure you’re not picking up any germs, you might want to use common sense and wash your hands after withdrawing money.

In addition, the CDC says you should wash your hands with soap and water:

Before and after preparing meals and eating

After using the bathroom

After touching pets, pet food, and animal waste

Before and after treating a cut or a wound

Before and after caring for someone who is sick

After handling garbage

After blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing

Of course, once you’ve gone to the ATM and have your cold, hard cash in hand, you may have more to worry about. The same research group conducted an unpublished study in 2014 that found 3,000 types of bacteria on dollar bills.

Learn about preventing the spread of bacteria and foodborne illness.