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]

Alex M

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

James V

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.


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?

Put a lid on them.

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


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!

Jonathan Bagley

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.


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.

Eric M. Jones

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.


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

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.


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

Michael Vukovich

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

Drill-Baby-Drill drill Team

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.


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.


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.



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.


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!! =)


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....


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.

I wonder

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.


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.