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How to clean a credit card

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    It's a post-pandemic world, but it's still important to continue cleaning or sterilizing items that have public exposure. Frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, smart phones and cash can carry germs which can easily be spread to others.

    Even your credit cards and debit cards are exposed to the public more often than you might realize. If you're touching the buttons on an ATM machine and then handling your debit card, you may pick up a few germs. If your waiter takes your credit card to a kiosk for payment processing, again it's being exposed to a surface that is frequently touched. This provides ample opportunity for the collection of germs — microbes, bacteria and assorted viruses. 

    A study from 2020 found that the virus that causes COVID-19 can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to 72 hours. Below we'll share the best ways to clean your credit cards as well as offer some tips on minimizing the spread of germs when using one.

    The best way to clean your credit card

    You probably have the appropriate products to clean your credit and debit cards in your home already. These include common cleaning supplies such as: 

    • Antibacterial wipes or sprays
    • Isopropyl alcohol
    • Hand soap
    • Dish soap

    To begin, follow these easy steps:

    1. Spray your preferred cleaning solution onto a clean rag or cotton ball.
    2. Gently wipe the rag or cotton ball over the entire front and back of your cards for about 10 to 20 seconds. Do not scrub them abrasively as this can cause damage, especially to the magnetic stripe. 
    3. Place the cards somewhere to dry completely before returning them to your wallet.

    Does washing your credit card ruin it?

    The chips and magnetic strips found on the front and back of cards are designed to be water-resistant. You can use everyday cleaning supplies without fear of ruining the card. But dropping it into the washing machine along with your jeans and T-shirt, is definitely a no-no.

    What to avoid when cleaning a credit card

    Your credit and debit cards contain important security information so you'll want to take care not to accidentally damage any areas of the card that payment readers would need in order to complete a transaction. There are a couple actions to avoid when cleaning your cards:

    • Excessive scrubbing. Don't scrub the surfaces of your card too hard, especially over magnetic strips or chips. Even though they're waterproof, you could still damage those areas with excessive abrasion. 
    • Full immersion into cleaning products. Don't soak the card in rubbing alcohol. Instead, sparingly pour it onto a towel or cotton ball first and then apply it to the card.

    How often should you clean your credit card?

    Once a week should be sufficient, but it depends on how many times it's been handled by others. Some may choose to clean their cards after each use. Unlike cash and coins though, credit cards are not widely circulated and touched by thousands of people.

    How to minimize germs when paying with a credit card

    When using a credit card to pay for something, there are several ways to mitigate your contact with germs. Here are just a few suggestions:

    Use mobile pay

    Some retailers offer this payment option, which is considered contactless. Mobile pay systems allow you to load your credit or debit card onto your phone. When you hold your phone near the mobile pay reader, you send your payment electronically and therefore no one else touches your credit card or your phone except for you. That said, your hands are a prime spreader of germs. Make sure you are wiping down your phone regularly as well.

    Make sure your card is enabled with tap to pay

    A tap to pay credit card uses RFID technology which allows you to make a transaction without having to insert your card into a terminal. You simply place your card within two inches of the checkout terminal for just a second or two and payment is complete. This technology includes added security because it generates a one-time, transaction-specific code for each transaction that is made. This means it's less likely for someone to obtain your credit card info or copy your credentials.

    Shop online

    When you minimize the contact that your card has with public surfaces found in stores or restaurants, you can minimize germs. Shopping online allows you to make purchases without your card ever touching a public surface.

    Wash your hands

    This tried-and-true method will always be helpful in reducing germs. Be sure to wash your hands with soap after handling a credit card, and most especially when handling cash.

    In conclusion

    Most household cleaners will properly clean and sterilize credit cards. You can minimize public exposure to germs by using tap to pay or mobile pay options. You may also consider calling your credit card company to have a new card issued at any time. Make sure to inquire if there is a fee for the replacement.

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