Can Credit Cards With Chips (EMV) Get Wet?

Can Credit Cards With Chips (EMV) Get Wet?

August 12, 2020         Written By Tracy Farnsworth

Do you ever use your computer in the rain? Probably not, as we all know that electronics don’t react well to water, which can cause corrosion and short circuits. In fact, Apple is widely known for voiding the warranties for phones that have been exposed to excess moisture. But now that most new credit cards are being issued with embedded microchips, does this mean that we have to take extra precautions to avoid moisture when carrying our credit cards?

The EMV chip in a credit and debit card is designed to be a more secure option. In a world where credit card fraud is one of the most prevalent forms of identity theft, security is everything. An EMV credit card is very durable but things can happen. You need to care for this card to help prevent damage or loss.

Security is the Main Benefit to EMV Credit Cards

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Back in 2015, the U.S. changed fraud liability laws. One of the new rules was for credit and debit card issuers to switch to cards with EMV chips. You might think that EMV stands for something important and techy, but it’s really just the first initial of the companies who worked together to create the new standard. Europay, Mastercard, Visa are behind it. These new cards are smart cards that contain a small microchip on the front of the card. That chip is capable of storing far more information than a magnetic strip and it’s better at encryption.

The first patent for credit card chips was issued in the 1970s. It took a while, but the first cards rolled out in the late 1970s and early 1980s. France was one of the first countries to embrace smart cards. Despite this early start, the technology wasn’t embraced in the U.S. until 2015. Since then, more card issuers are turning to EMV chips and encouraging retailers and gas stations to upgrade card readers to have chip readers to help lower the risk of credit card fraud in a world where convenience and technology are designed to make transactions faster and touchless.

While an EMV chip is found on most cards, magnetic strips are still included as a back-up in case the chip isn’t working. When possible, it’s safest to use the chip as the readers look for specific information on that chip to ensure the transaction isn’t fraudulent. The credit card number itself is never sent thanks to a process known as tokenization.

The information that’s sent from the chip reader to the EMV chip and vice versa is all encrypted and appears just as a string of letters and numbers. That’s one reason why the cards are considered to be much safer than magnetic strip cards. Information is never sent over cable or phone lines to a bank. It’s all handled at the terminal.

There are other reasons that EMV chip cards are better to use. While some thieves have the equipment to clone magnetic strips, cloning an EMV chip is extremely difficult, which makes them far more secure. Retailers can use portable EMV readers for transactions. If you’re paying for a meal, you may notice that many restaurants now have the technology of bringing the chip reader to the table. You never hand your card to someone else and have it leave your view. That also helps with security. You don’t have to worry about someone snapping a photo of your card number and security code to use for online purchases.

You can also take measures to lower the risk of card fraud. Don’t use your EMV credit card online if it’s not a secure site. If you do shop online, remove any cards that the retailer stores in your account. Sites like Amazon automatically store the credit cards you use for online purchases. Go in and manually delete them. Pay attention to your recent purchases. If anything is suspicious, contact the company. You should also check your credit report and look for accounts that you did not create. Laws require you to alert companies within a certain amount of time or you could end up responsible for fraudulent charges.

EMV chips are new safer technology, but some people don’t understand the ins and outs of having these cards. While credit cards are all switching over to EMV chips, you probably have questions. What happens if you get the EMV chip wet? If it goes through the washer and dryer, is it going to pose an issue? If you drop it in your driveway and find it later, will it work? How do you clean it to remove germs, bacteria, and dirt? Can you even clean it?

What Happens if the EMV Chip Gets Wet?

Most people know that leaving an electronic device in the rain is a bad idea. Apple faced many complaints in the 2000s with the Liquid Contact Indicator (LCI) strips hidden within phones and music players that voided warranties and killed Apple devices. In high-humidity areas, the strips were activating even though there was no exposure to water. In 2013, Apple agreed to pay for damages to iPhones caused by the moisture strips. You’d never leave your laptop in the water. The internal metal components would eventually rust and the electricals would short out as water and electricity do not mix.

Unlike electronic devices, EMV chips are water-resistant. It’s not as risky if your EMV chip gets wet. Some raindrops won’t hurt it. This doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to get it wet. If you do accidentally drop it in a puddle, quickly remove it and use a soft, absorbent cloth to dry the chip. Extended exposure to water may soften the glue that holds the chip in place. Don’t go swimming with your wallet in your pocket unless that wallet is zippered and watertight. Don’t put your credit cards through the wash. Not that either of those situations is likely, so it’s hard to imagine that water damage is going to happen.

The bottom line is that you should always try to keep the EMV chip dry. If you do get it wet, use a cloth or paper towel to quickly dry it off. With those simple steps, your EMV chip will last the life of the card.

How Dirty is Your EMV Credit Card?

How often do you clean your credit and debit cards? If you’re like most people, it never crosses your mind. You should, however, as these cards can get very dirty. Germs cling to them. EMV chips are made from glass wafers that have metal microcircuits embedded into the glass. Glass is easy to clean, but the metal is the component that you have to be a little more careful with.

A study performed in the U.K. found that 1 out of 10 credit cards have fecal bacteria on the card. Another study compared bacteria counts on credit/debit cards, dollar bills, and coins. Cards had the most bacteria with one having 17 times more bacteria than an NYC subway pole. Do you want a card that’s covered in more germs than a subway to be sitting in your hand?

Fecal bacteria is the type of bacteria that leads to diseases like E. coli, salmonella, or staphylococcus infection. They’re not always dangerous if you have a strong immune system, but they can make you feel lousy for a few days. Germs that cause viruses like strep, the common cold, or the flu may be found on these cards for a few hours or days after someone who is sick touches them. Keeping credit cards clean of the bacteria can help prevent contracting these diseases. The CDC also recommends washing your hands for a full 20 seconds throughout the day. Keep your cards clean and wash your hands often and you can avoid becoming sick.

The other reason to keep your EMV credit card clean is to prevent dirt and grime build-up. They can make it hard for chip readers to read the chip. At this point, the back-up magnetic strip may be the only way to get the charge approved until the card is clean. It’s a less-secure transaction, so it’s not something you’d want happening regularly. Keeping the card clean helps avoid potential fraud.

 

How do you clean a credit card with an EMV chip?

It comes down to what you have on hand. It’s a quick process that you should do each time you use your card and I bet you have access to the supplies!

Dish Soap and Water –In a pinch, you could use soap and water. Aim for a soap that doesn’t have added oils or moisturizers that will lead to build-up on the EMV chip. Plain dish soap, such as Dawn’s original blue soap, is the best option. If you have to use dish soap and water, make sure the card is dried completely when you’re done. Use more soap than water as you clean the chip.

 

Avoids Scratches and Chips

How do EMV chips work? The chips work in compliance with a chip and PIN standard. You go to the card terminal that has a chip reader. Insert the card and the screen shows several instructions. You might have to enter a PIN or enter something about yourself such as a ZIP code. Using encrypted strings of alphanumeric information, the purchase information and transaction information takes place between that chip and the terminal. To ensure the transactions go through smoothly, you don’t want dirt or damage keeping the microcircuits from connecting with the technology in the chip reader.

Keep your card in your wallet when it’s not being used. You don’t want to store it loosely in a purse with things like pens, glasses, coins, and keys. Friction can also wear down and damage the chip. Ideally, store it in a Tyvek credit card sleeve to avoid scratches and friction caused by taking it in and out of a wallet.

In a grocery store line, don’t fall for the temptation to keep your baby or toddler busy by letting the child play with your card. We’ve all seen the frazzled mom or dad do whatever it takes to prevent a meltdown. It may keep them quiet, but the metals in that EMV chip are not good. Kids like to put things in their mouths. A bite mark could harm both your child and destroy your card. It’s better to keep a small toy or stuffed animal available for those moments.

 

What If Something Goes Wrong?

What do you do if your EMV chip is damaged, falls out, or won’t read? EMV chips are adhered to a new credit card using a special adhesive. While it’s designed to last, it’s not foolproof. Defects may keep the adhesive from lasting. EMV cards can be damaged. If you accidentally dropped it while getting into your car and later find you drove over it while leaving your garage, it may have scratches or chips that render the chip useless. It’s not your fault and you don’t have to go without it.

Extended exposure to moisture, repeated use, or high levels of heat may cause the chip to loosen and fall off. You might be able to glue it back, but a scratch and chip could cause the chip to stop working. Putting your card through the washer may not hurt it, but if it also went through the dryer, it could cause a problem. If you do need a new credit card, contact your bank via phone or through the secure website and order a replacement card.

If you’re at a store and a charge is denied, try rubbing down the chip with a dollar bill or piece of paper to remove any dirt until you can clean it at home. Run it again. If it still doesn’t read, try it until it prompts you to swipe the magnetic strip. That at least gets you through the purchase. If it still doesn’t work, ask if another terminal could be used. Sometimes, a dirty card reader will cause problems. At this point, if the charge is still declined, you should make sure there are funds available. That’s another reason for a charge to be declined unexpectedly.

Magnetic strip cards cost pennies to make. EMV-equipped chip cards are a little more costly at around $1 each, but they’re still replaced without an additional charge to you most of the time. If you request an unusual number of replacement cards or have a debit card that charges a fee for replacement cards, you may pay a small amount. Your cardholder policy will detail if there are charges.

You should have the replacement card within a few business days, so you won’t have to go for too long without a card. If you can’t wait long, let the customer service agent know. Expedited delivery may be an option if you need a replacement card in a hurry. If you have a high-end reward credit card, you might even find that overnight delivery is offered free of charge. It never hurts to ask.

Once the replacement card arrives, destroy the other card. Chop up the card so that you’re cutting vertically and horizontally through the magnetic strip and the EMV chip. Do small cuts to destroy the security code, expiration dates, and card number. Make sure your name is chopped into small fragments. The goal is to destroy the card into tiny shards that are hard to reassemble. Toss them out into different trash bags, too.

 

If you need help finding the right EMV credit card, use the Low Cards Credit Card Selection Tool to get started. The process only takes a few seconds, and we’ll match you with the best credit card offers to meet your needs.

The information contained within this article was accurate as of August 12, 2020. For up-to-date information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website. Many of the offers on this article are from our affiliate partners, and LowCards.com may be compensated if you take action with any of our affiliate partners.

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tracy

About Tracy Farnsworth

Tracy Farnsworth went straight from a business track in high school to a full-time job in mortgage banking in Burlington, Vermont. After having children, she built a freelance career in content writing and took online classes as time allowed. She completed Social Media Marketing and Digital Marketing certificate programs with Ireland's online Shaw Academy and completed several courses in SEO and analytics. In her free time, she's the “mom” to a very clingy rat terrier, and the pair walk at least a mile every day. She's also a novice baker who is trying to master the art of sourdough bread.