LendEdu: Go Mobile Payments, Because ATMs are Filthy

January 18, 2019         By: Steven Anderson

If you’ve ever, even for a moment, been tempted to kiss an ATM—and I don’t know under what circumstances you’d actually feel that temptation—then a recent study LendEdu sent our way will make you glad you restrained yourself. LendEdu went to 20 different ATMs in New York City and discovered that the cash machines are downright filthy.

The LendEdu study analyzed three different portions of the ATM: the card reader, the keypad, and the touchscreen. In nearly every case, the card reader proved the dirtiest part, followed by the keypad, and then finally, the touchscreen display. The systems used in testing measured levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is measured in relative light units (RLU). The higher the RLU value, the higher the ATP level, and thus, the dirtier the surface.

The dirtiest card reader came in at 943 RLU. That’s largely meaningless until you get context, and discover that a park bench came in at a little over half that at 503 RLU, and a CitiBike was 758 RLU. The dirtiest keypad, meanwhile, was just 471 RLU, while the dirtiest touchscreen was 627 RLU.

This actually doesn’t reflect value universally; the average touchscreen was only 168 RLU, while the average keypad was 267 RLU and the average card reader was 423 RLU. This means that card readers are often dirty, while touchscreens and keypads are only occasionally dirty. Interestingly, location didn’t matter; outside ATMs were generally about as dirty as indoor ones. The dirtiest card reader was found in the West Village, while a Midtown / Times Square ATM came in second dirtiest at 858 RLU.

This proves that being careful while using an ATM will be crucial to keeping yourself away from colds and flu, especially with the season for such already well underway. Some may well want to stick to mobile payments systems outright, though others may be satisfied with just washing their hands a little more often. In fact, some ATMs are actually fairly clean; several featured double-digit RLU values, and that’s the kind of thing you’ll likely run into no matter where you go or what you do.

Still, it’s clear that cash is a fairly filthy business, and that’s just to get some out of a machine.