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I needed cash for something, so I got change at a grocery store. The cashier who gave me the paper money said that she has had a cold for a few days. I know she probably isn't contagious anymore, but it started me thinking, since bacteria and viruses can remain alive on paper money for 48 hours or longer, and other people have probably handled that money recently.

How can I sanitize paper money during the cold and flu season?

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    E.g. this site quotes a virus lifetime of a few hours, not 48: mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/expert-answers/… - which would mean the virus is already dead by the time you get home and can clean those bills. – Hobbes Nov 28 '18 at 10:35
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    @Hobbes Thanks. I'd seen some other article that said certain viruses could live "up to 17 days" on paper money. As with most stuff on the internet, its reliability is questionable. – BrettFromLA Nov 28 '18 at 13:03
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    Somehow I thought “How to launder money?” would also have been an interesting title ;-) – Stephie Dec 9 '18 at 10:39
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You can iron paper bills, like the American ones, on rather high heat. Just the same iron you use for your clothing, at the hottest setting, but no steam. It will kill all viruses.

Plastic bills can be hand washed, with the same soap you would use on your hand, you can dry them the same way you dry your hands, with a clean cloth or even the hot air dryer you use for your hands. Or you can let them air dry.
These bills can withstand some heat but I have heard not enough to iron them clean.

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    I chose this as The Answer because it's quick and simple. Other methods may work as well, but they generally take longer, or end up with wet money. – BrettFromLA Nov 29 '18 at 0:55
  • Honestly, an iron hadn't occurred to me. Good answer! – Zeiss Ikon Dec 21 '18 at 20:26
  • There are no settings low enough to allow safe ironing of polymer currency. Temperatures must be below 266°F/130°C to retain their integrity. Polymer currency can be boiled in water however without damage. – Stan Mar 8 at 16:06
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In a lot, if not most, countries money bills are made out of plastic or cotton. You can wash those with water and detergent or even in a washing machine (although I do not recommend a program with a spin cycle).

Some currencies with cotton or plastic bills:

  • Euro (cotton)
  • US Dollar (cotton)
  • AU Dollar (plastic)
  • Swedish krona (cotton)
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You can't effectively sanitize paper which is a kind of plasticized textile; but, you can quarantine money (use your wallet and the same pocket) then use hand sanitizer after handling it.

Recent tests indicate that using hand sanitizer is as effective as thorough hand-washing, if not better.

Keep your hands away from your face and practice other forms of asepsis to avoid infecting yourself from common sources of flu virus and bacteria. Door handles and push plates, faucet handles, computer keyboards, telephone handsets, credit card terminals, and shared pens at financial transactions are common ones.

Gezundheit ! !

Update: When cleaning polymer (plastic) currency, boiling the currency in water will not change the characteristics in any meaningful way. The currency will withstand 266°F without issue.

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  • I would be interested in where you read that sanitizer is as effective as hand washing. I keep hearing that it's not, but none of my sources are studies. Though it's been two years, so I doubt you have it. :) – piojo Mar 8 at 10:22
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    @piojo Hi, my answer is based on the probable availability of hand sanitizer vs proper hand washing facilities. One study mentions this factor. Others specifically mention conditions such as dry conditions (use hand sanitizer) versus wet with mucus (use hand washing). There are many recent studies mentioning this stuff and more. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513254 is one located after your comment request. The benefit of washing is that bugs are rinsed down the drain rather than being killed as with hand sanitizer. Fascinating reading! A lot of "qualifiers." – Stan Mar 8 at 15:42
  • I have heard that hand washing (with soap and invest a bit of time in it) kills 95% to 99% of the gems and viruses, but even the best hand sanitizer only kills around 85%. Most hand sanitizers on the market are not strong enough to reach that 85% level. This comes from hearing it on TV, so no links. – Willeke Mar 8 at 17:00
  • Based on your comment and the linked studies (as well as common sense), the actual fact is that a POLICY of using hand sanitizer may be more effective than a policy of washing with soap. It's not that the hand sanitizer is more effective: it is less. Recommending that people use either/or is sound advice, but there is no need to actually push people toward the less effective solution. – piojo Mar 9 at 4:34
  • FYI I did just come across a study that says alcohol sanitizer is more effective than hand washing against rhinoviruses: aac.asm.org/content/54/3/1363 – piojo Mar 22 at 15:20
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For natural fiber bills (American money is cotton/linen, for instance) you could bake the bills in an oven. A half hour at 250 F (appr. 120 C) should be sufficient, and isn't hot enough to damage the material. I'd reserve this for $5 and smaller, just in case the heat is enough to damage the ID thread in larger bills, or test with a $10 before cooking a stack of $100s -- but this level of heat should denature viruses and will kill any bacterial pathogen (some extremophile bacteria live in hotter temperatures, but they aren't pathogens).

This method will also work for coins, of course, even the ones with an aluminum ring around a bronze center.

I don't know what plastic is used for bills in other countries -- it might or might not survive this temperature.

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    Have you tried this? It might damage the money due to either hot spots or the oven coming up to temperature at higher power than its steady state would have. – piojo Mar 8 at 10:25
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Bacteria and Viruses live around you and are on the surfaces of everything you touch.

I'd recommend that you deal with this reality and let your skin and (hopefully) functioning immune system do its work while washing your hands with soap and water when appropriate. Alternatively, you can live in fear and spiral into a hypochondriac.

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  • I'm not a germophobe at all. But if someone sneezes into their hands, and then opens a door, I will probably avoid handling that doorknob - or at least I'll wash my hands afterwards. And if there's a simple, quick and easy way to eliminate bacteria on money after a sick person handles it, that just makes sense. – BrettFromLA Nov 28 '18 at 13:06
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One option I came up with overnight is to leave the bills in direct sunlight. The light kills bacteria in household dust, so maybe it would work on paper money too. I haven't done any research into this; it's just an educated guess. I'm curious whether this will get upvotes, or downvotes, and comments.

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    Direct sunlight might not be available in 'colds' season and when not living alone, risk of moving away is to be considered. From drafts or wind to pockets of housemates. – Willeke Dec 22 '18 at 5:59
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Perhaps spray both sides lightly with Lysol and hang with clothes pins on a wire clothes hanger to dry? Just a thought!

Good Luck!

Best Regards,

Judy

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This is not a answer to your question, but what you can do is:

1) Get a bottle of hand sanitizer and put it by where you're handling money.

2) Wash your hands frequently, basically like a nurse who has to deal with money.

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