Over half (57%) of Brits worry about unhygienic coins and bank notes but fail to wash their hands after handling cash 

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LONDON, United Kingdom – 6th May, 2014–Research (1) released today by MasterCard suggests that despite believing cash, bank notes or coins to be as dirty as hand rails on public transport or door handles, nearly half of Britons do not wash their hands after handling it. The European wide study, which included polling of over 1,000 UK consumers, suggests that people are struggling to break the bad hygiene habits associated with spending unhygienic cash.

Key UK findings from the research include:

  • Not washing your hands after going to the toilet is the most ‘shocking’ bad habit – despite the fact that more germs can be found on a £1 coin than on a regularly cleaned toilet seat
  • Nearly half of all Brits (47%) admit to never washing their hands after handling cash
  • Men are the worst offenders and significantly more likely to handle cash without washing their hands (55% compared with 40%)
  • Using someone’s toothbrush is believed to be the most unhygienic habit in the UK. 94% of Brits consider it more dirty than sharing a tissue, toilet seat or food.
  • 85% of respondents suggested Brits should be cautious when handling cash as it is dirty, yet only one in five (21%) of Brits admit their friends would be surprised to learn they’ve not washed their hands after handling cash
  • More than half (54%) of the respondents taking part in the research claim they prefer to use card or contactless payment to replace germ ridden cash

Initial research carried out by MasterCard and Oxford University in 2013 (2) highlighted that the average European bank note contained 26,000 bacteria which could be potentially harmful to our health. However, the report released today indicates that Brits have not changed their hygiene habits.  Findings suggest that we are more likely to wash our hands after completing other tasks such as touching an animal (83%) or travelling on public transport (53%) than handling cash

Psychologist Donna Dawson highlighted: “Worrying about “money” in the form of tangible banknotes and coins is similar to worrying about the germs in the air we breathe – we can’t see them and therefore we have no control over them. 40% of those polled recognised they had no control over who handled their money beforehand and as a consequence, many of us try not to think about the things we can’t control, with 38% claiming to never thinking about it. The facts about dirty money will worry us for a while, but this worry will quickly sink down the list of ‘worry priorities’ to a much lower point – it really is a case of out of sight, out of mind.”

Marion King, President of UK & Ireland, commented on the findings: “People will not be surprised that we are championing a move away from handling money, but this research shows that UK consumers prefer to use more innovative ways to pay. From buying a coffee en route to the office, lunch on the go from a local supermarket or even your bus or train tickets – more and more UK consumers are using contactless and wide spread adoption is reaching a critical mass, reducing the need for dirty cash and bringing the added bonus of safe, secure and accessible payment via any device.”

Additional findings from the MasterCard research highlighted how almost four in ten (39%) of Brits claim they would be willing to make at least one small change in their everyday life in order to be more hygienic, with the majority stating they would prefer to use a card or contactless payment over cash in order to be more hygienic.

Dr Jim O’Mahony, lecturer in Biological Sciences at The Cork Institute of Technology, Ireland commented; “The association of money and hygiene has long been established. From a historical perspective there have even been reports that villagers believed money was somehow responsible for plague epidemics in England, with villagers leaving money in water troughs filled with vinegar in order to decontaminate it (3). Scientifically, there have been many studies in recent years which have proven beyond doubt that bank notes and coins carry bacteria and other microbes. The majority of people acknowledge that handling cash could be perceived as being hazardous yet on a practical basis people are disinclined to adopt basic hygiene practices. 

Notes to editors

Research conducted by Toluna on behalf of MasterCard, March-April 2014

9,923 Europeans over the age of 18 polled across Europe (UK, Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Croatia).

About MasterCard
MasterCard (NYSE: MA), www.mastercard.com, is a technology company in the global payments industry. We operate the world’s fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. MasterCard’s products and solutions make everyday commerce activities – such as shopping, traveling, running a business and managing finances – easier, more secure and more efficient for everyone. Follow us on Twitter @MasterCardNews, join the discussion on the Cashless Pioneers Blog and subscribe for the latest news on the Engagement Bureau.


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Europe :

Corinne Raes corinne_raes@mastercard.com +32 498 58 5237

Bénédicte Stievenart benedicte_stievenart@mastercard.com +32 498 58 5019

(1) Research conducted by Toluna on behalf of MasterCard, March – April 2014

(2) Scientific research conducted by Oxford University on behalf of MasterCard, March 2013

(3) Gabriel EM, Coffey A, O’Mahony JM. Investigation into the prevalence, persistence and antibiotic resistance profiles of staphylococci isolated from euro currency. J Appl Microbiol. 2013 Aug;115(2):565-71