From £5 polymer banknotes to coins: how dirty is our money?

Updated on 09 December 2016 | 1 Comment

As new research suggests the £5 Winston Churchill polymer banknotes are three times cleaner than old notes, we look at exactly what horrible things are lurking on our money.

Did you know there are more germs on a £1 coin than a toilet seat?

And coins aren’t the only issue: scientists have found the average UK banknote is home to 26,000 types of bacteria – including E. coli – making ours some of the dirtiest in Europe, according to research by MasterCard.

A separate study by chemists Mass Spec Analytical found traces of various drugs on banknotes within weeks of entering circulation, with a staggering 99% in London testing positive for cocaine.

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Plastic beats paper

If that information is enough to turn your stomach, then you may want to consider stocking up on the new Winston Churchill £5 banknotes. 

That's because the new polymer notes are three times cleaner than the old fivers, and harbour fewer germs than cotton, washi paper and cotton-linen notes in general, according to scientists at Harper Adams University.

Professor Frank Vriesekoop, who led the research, explains that plastic kills off bacteria quicker that other materials.

"We found that bacteria found on human hands are less capable of sticking to plastic banknotes compared to the old cotton-based UK pound notes; the linen-cotton mix based American dollar notes; and the washi paper based Japanese Yen notes," he says.

"In addition, bacteria found on human hands die-off faster when on plastic banknotes”.

There are more than 30 countries around the world now using the ‘cleaner’ polymer notes.

The team also tested coins and found, although coins do carry bacteria, ‘many coins are actually toxic to bacteria’, said Professor Vriesekoop.

But bacteria can actually adapt to toxic environments, he added.

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The dirt issue 

The jury's out on whether or not money makes us happier, but one thing’s for certain – it’s very dirty.

However, this doesn’t seem to change the way we handle it.

A Europe-wide MasterCard study found two thirds of people think touching or using money is unhygienic, but only one in five Europeans wash their hands after coming into contact with it.

Over 9,000 consumers from 12 countries were surveyed, and although hand rails on public transport and nuts in a pub were found to be more hygienic, we still can’t seem to break the bad habit.

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