Is Your ATM a Bacterial Bomb?

Might want to carry your Purell to the ATM from now on. A new study finds that the numeric keypads on London ATMs are as bacteria-contaminated as the seats of public restrooms. “We were interested in comparing the levels of bacterial contamination between heavily-used ATM machines and public lavatories,” said Dr. Richard Hastings, who spearheaded the experiment. “We were surprised by our results because the ATM machines were shown to be heavily contaminated with bacteria; to the same level as nearby public lavatories. In addition the bacteria we detected on ATMs were similar to those from the toilet, which are well known as causes of common human illnesses.” (HT: Collin Campbell) [%comments]

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COMMENTS: 28


  1. Alex M says:

    Is the bacteria count any different from paper or coin money?

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  2. James V says:

    Considering many illnesses are transmitted hand-to-mouth, I’d imagine the savings in lost sick days could be substantial if the keypad could be kept sanitary. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too hard for an ATM to have a built-in disinfectant spray which can give the keypad a periodic spritz when it’s unoccupied?

    I think the equivalent of a two or three dollar economy can of spray disinfectant would be a great price to pay to help prevent colds/flus/GI illnesses.

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  3. Shane says:

    I use ATMs regularly and haven’t been sick in years, haven’t even had a cold in about two years. So it makes me think that touching things that crawl with germs may not be that big of a deal?

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  4. Put a lid on them. says:

    What sort of deposits have people been making in the ATMs anyway?

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  5. Nosybear says:

    Love the comparison; however, I’ve read the seats of public restrooms have fewer bacteria than your kitchen countertop and cutting board. Sorry, can’t find link right now. Cheers!

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  6. Jonathan Bagley says:

    I agree with #3. That we came into contact with so many bacteria without coming to much harm surely shows there isn’t a problem.

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  7. Nylund says:

    I thought past tests showed that public toilet seats were surprisingly clean. If that is true, then that means ATM’s aren’t terribly dirty either. I’d wager that neither are all that much worse than any other public surface, be it a handrail, doorknob, or whatever.

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  8. Eric M. Jones says:

    Mythbusters did a show where they compared toilet seats to other things and the toilet seats came off well.

    …But I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with geometric logic, that DOORKNOBS are the real disease culprits….

    It turns out that little bugs’ slimey little bodies can’t grow on anything that is electrically conductive.* So brass, copper, bronze, iron, and silver (e.g.) are quickly disease-free after touching. Stainless steel and aluminum have nonconductive oxides that allow growth. Of course, these are attractive architectural metals and are used everywhere.

    Your best bet: Wash your hands, and don’t touch your nose or especially your eyes with bare hands.

    *That’s why you can’t get normally sick swimming in the ocean.

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  9. Nylund says:

    Here is one report from ABC’s 20/20 showing the toilet seat to be one of the cleanest parts of a public restroom.

    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Health/story?id=1213831

    Mythbusters also compared items and found toilet seats to be relatively clean. Cleaner than your average cell phone, hotel remote control, light switch, and shopping cart.

    In light of that, I’d say this means that an ATM is actually relatively clean.

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  10. Robin says:

    I’ve seen many scientific experiments that show toilet seats to be one of the cleaner things you can touch in a public place.

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  11. Michael Vukovich says:

    You could line the numeric keys with an antibacterial lining to prevent bacterial colonization.

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  12. Drill-Baby-Drill drill Team says:

    Toilet seats are cleaner than people think. We should all have dinner served on such virtuous pottery.

    Fonts of bacterial and viral contamination are on everything else that you don’t suspect. It is hidden in plain view.

    High bacterial counts are cultured from ATM pads, computer keyboards, telephone pads and handsets, doorknobs, elevator buttons, shared pens and pencils, handles and straps on mass transit, and doorhandles. Also babies and toddlers especially at daycare centers–this is the equivalent of Club Med for Bacteria.

    If you have to buy street food, buy from a WOMAN instead of a man. Women wash their hands after using the toilet 85% of the time. Men less than 65%.

    Germs are everywhere, just WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN. Lady MacBeth wasn’t crazy, she was right.

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  13. Tristan says:

    This study is really misleading, in that what it should be focusing on is people’s perception of what’s “dirty” and “clean” and not on ATMs. The major flaw was only collecting samples from two areas (ATMs and public toilets) and then comparing this data against people’s perception of a wide range of public places. There’s basically no control in the test, it’s just two points of data that are basically the same.

    While they were out swabbing they should have grabbed samples from some other areas, like: doorknobs, buses/subways, paper currency, etc. The point is that public toilets and ATMs aren’t dirty and everything else is clean, but that pretty much every public spot that anyone touches with their bare hands is covered in bacteria.

    In fact, I’ve seen similiar tests that found the level of bacteria in most home kitchens is way above what’s found in a typical bathroom.

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  14. Jake says:

    It seems like everything is as dirty as a toilet seat. It might be easier to do a little re-framing: “New study finds that toilet seats are as clean as ATM keypads.” Excellent.

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  15. Erik says:

    BUT DOES IT MATTER?!?!?!?!

    Who cares how many bacteria there are? What matters is if they’re going to make you sick, and whether reducing their numbers would make a difference. And of course, that was not tested.

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  16. John says:

    So….what TYPE of bacteria are we talking about? Somehow I think the bacteria on a public toilet seat would be a more harmful bacteria, regardless of the count.
    Interesting concept, though. You got me to read it, got me to think, and got me to talk. THANKS!! =)

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  17. Rafael says:

    Our society is becoming so overprotective that it’s backfiring.Our tolerance to normal things like germs, virus, bacteria, etc. is diminishing. Our future generations will have to live inside plastic bubbles. We’re so paranoid….

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  18. Joe says:

    What’s so special about ATMs? I would guess they’re exactly as bacteria-infested as EVERYTHING ELSE A LOT OF PEOPLE TOUCH with their “filthy” mitts. Which, as #15 nicely points out, aren’t actually making us all that sick.

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  19. I wonder says:

    I wonder if they get cleaned every day (like toilets, but not like those notoriously filthy doorknobs). It seems like wiping the keypad with Windex-type cleaner would be a pretty standard maintenance task: add cash, remove checks, re-fill deposit envelopes (if used by that machine), wipe everything down.

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  20. Anthony says:

    Toilet seats are dry and therefore harbor barely any bacteria. Toilet seats have around 300 bacteria per square inch. Dry areas of your skin have about 13000 bacteria per square inch, your armpits have about 500,000 bacteria per square inch.

    The toilet bowl being moist has around 3 million bacteria per square inch.

    Antibacterial surfaces are a scam as the bacteria easily adapt over time (but arent a threat in the first place). Mostly what makes us sick are viruses anyway not bacteria.

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  21. Joel says:

    Yes, as #13 commented, what most people consider clean and dirty is really much more interesting and relevant. I would like to see wht kind of silly study this was, it would be more effective if the link to the “new study” was a link to the study, instead of another article about it. This study would do well as part of a larger study of the level of triviality required to propagate news reporting chains.

    “Within the body of a healthy adult, microbial cells are estimated to outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one.”
    -Human Microbiome Project

    Our bodies are always crawling with microbes. Our fingers might be briefly getting cleaner when using the pin pads.

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  22. Philippe says:

    The fact is germs are everywhere. Previously we weren’t able to measure this precisely so this is nothing new. Anything that is touched by a lot of people is bound to be full of bacteria. Keyboards in internet cafes, ATMs, PIN keypads for credit cards at shops, public transportation knobs and handles. The list is endless.

    The key is to realize this and wash your hands before handling food or touching your face and you’ll be fine.

    Also #13 raises a very valid point. Since you can’t really see bacteria (not until it forms a very very big colony), people rely on their instincts and learned patterns to know what’s dirty and what’s not. Toilets are identified by most people as being dirty while they might actually be very clean because they are often disinfected. On the other hand it is common place to wash one’s kitchen with a sponge to remove visible stains and scraps while at the time spreading bacteria that has developed in the wet sponge.

    I’ve seen many bars and restaurants where waiters would “clean” tables with a funny-smelling wet rag that probably made things much worse.

    The #1 thing that could improve the situation is a easy way to measure bacteria levels for the layperson. Some CSI-like magic light wand that would make bacteria reflect purple light for example. Until then, all that we can do is wash our hands.

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  23. Philippe says:

    also #15 is dead on. Modern soap and disinfection makes a very big difference in hospitals and daycare centers, but I’d like to see medical results before embarking on a disinfect-everything crusade.

    I’m willing to bet that contamination in public transportation comes mostly from the air (people coughing and stuff). Surface to hand to mouth/skin would likely be a distant second.

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  24. cassiel says:

    This is a “study” by a manufacturer of antibacterial coatings. I doubt it has been peer-reviewed.

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  25. Jackie says:

    But how do they compare with the size of the state of Rhode Island? THAT’s the must-use metric.

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  26. hal says:

    Just a “spritz” is all it takes.

    Kill the beneficial bacteria leaving only the resistant pathogens.

    Accelerated evolutionary suicide induced by fear (and uninformed by science).

    The human species decimating pandemic will be from a microbe we created ourselves – perhaps on a toilet seat or ATM.

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  27. PeteB says:

    Toilet seats are not that bad as far as bacteria counts go. It’s the handrails and other places where everyone puts a hand that are bad. As someone else already said, “bacteria are everywhere” and mostly they are pretty benign. Just wash your hands before eating or poking at open wounds.

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