How to Clean Your EMV Chip Credit Card

How to Clean Your EMV Chip Credit Card

December 29, 2020         Written By John H. Oldshue

In October 2015, the fraud liability laws in the United States changed to encourage merchants to switch to EMV chip credit cards. EMV cards are more secure than magnetic stripe credit cards in processing payments because the chip transmits payments with an encrypted token instead of your credit card number. Since your payment card information is not being transmitted, thieves will not be able to steal your information if they hack the payment system.

Since the shift happened several years ago, chances are good that your card issuers have sent you the new EMV chip cards. If you have these in your wallet, you may be wondering how to properly clean them, a legitimate concern since dirt on your card can affect the chip and make transactions fail. Additionally, credit cards can also carry disease-causing germs.

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First, know that EMV credit cards are sturdy and water-resistant. Thus, if you drop your card in a puddle or get stuck in the rain, it is unlikely this will damage your card—just make sure you dry it off before using it at an ATM or payment terminal. But these cards are not indestructible. The chip is adhered to your credit card with a type of glue, so any chemical that would weaken this glue could make the chip fall out of your card. Thus, it’s not a great idea to have your credit card take a spin in the dryer.

Different Ways to Clean EMV Credit Cards

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.

So 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 on a periodic basis.

#1 – Isopropyl Alcohol

Use a cotton swab or cotton ball and alcohol. You want pure alcohol, so aim for one that is at least 91% isopropyl alcohol. Rubbing alcohol will work if it’s all you have, but 91% isopropyl alcohol is going to dehydrate and dry faster, which is ideal. Wipe down the chip and both sides of the card. Let it dry. When you’re done, make sure that you haven’t left any cotton fibers behind stuck to the EMV chip. They won’t cause damage, but it’s better to have a completely clean chip with no fibers that dirt may cling to.

#2 – Disinfectant Wipe

If you don’t have alcohol, a disinfectant wipe is a second option. Gently buff the chip with the wipe and allow it to fully dry. If you have to use a paper towel to finish drying it, do so. Some recommend a baby wipe but remember that many have skin conditioners to help moisturize the skin. Skin conditioners and moisturizers may cause build-up on your chip.

#3 – Dish Soap and Waterproof

In a pinch, you could also 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.

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#4 – Other Ideas

Are there other cleaners you can use? Some card companies suggest using nail polish remover for some grime that is stuck on. If you want to try this, try to avoid nail polish removers that have added oils to condition the nails. You can also follow any of these options with a pencil eraser to help rub off built-on grease from your fingers.

Avoid cleaners that may harm the metal microcircuits. Bleach cleaners or abrasive cleaners are not your best options. Cleaners that contain a high percentage of water are also not a good idea even though the chips are water-resistant.

It’s worth keeping isopropyl alcohol on hand to clean your credit and debit cards. Not only does this help keep them working properly, but it also lowers the risk of being exposed to bacteria and germs that could impact your health.

None of these cleaning methods should damage your card. But if the chip does fall out of your EMV credit card or your card stops working for any other reason, contact your card issuer, and they will send you a new card.

The information contained within this article was accurate as of December 29, 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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john-oldshue

About John H. Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of LowCards.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers credit card rate issues for LowCards.com.