Do Credit Cards Still Work After Being Washed?


Credit cards are arguably one of the most valuable things we physically carry around with us on a daily basis. 

Because of this though, we run the risk of accidentally running them through the washing machine. 

If this has happened to you, this article should ease your mind and answer any questions you may have.

Almost every credit card will still work after being through a wash cycle. Credit cards are waterproof and designed to withstand chemicals, including those in detergents. They will only be damaged if severely scratched or warped by temperatures above 135oF, such as in a hot water cycle or a dryer.

Will a Credit Card Still Work After Being Washed and Dried?

Most of the time, your credit card will still work after going through the washing machine. This is because credit cards are designed to withstand everyday wear and tear so that they can last the full three to five years before they expire.

With that said though, credit cards are sensitive to heat, so if they happen to make their way into a dryer, there is a higher chance that they could be damaged. but will get into that more throughout the article.

To understand what components of a credit card can in fact be damaged, it’s important to understand what these different components actually are. 

Related Financial Geek Article: Do Credit Cards Expire on the First or Last of the Month

Components of a Credit Card

The plastic body of the card is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polycarbonate, and coated in an epoxy resin. 

This has the card number, expiry date and cardholders name either embossed or printed onto the plastic. It is incredibly durable and provides a strong base for the EMV chip and magnetic strip.

Encased within the plastic is the electronics for the EMV chip. If you have ever seen a translucent credit card, you may have noticed the lines running around the perimeter and around the chip. This is the NFC (Near Field Communication) antenna that enables wireless transactions. 

The EMV chip is embedded within the plastic, with its face covered by the epoxy resin. EMV stands for ‘Europay, Mastercard and Visa’, which are the three founding companies of this form of credit card. 

This EMV chip holds the credit card information, as well as encryption technology to protect against fraud.

The magnetic strip is located on the back of the card and is made of a magnetised iron-based material. This holds the card’s information in a static magnetised pattern.

The back of the card also has the authenticity hologram and the signature strip. The signature strip is also where you’ll find the CVV number too. CVV stands for ‘card verification value’ and is what’s required for online purchases.

Related Financial Geek Article: Why Do Credit Card Refunds Take So Long?

Types of Credit Card Damage

Water Damage

Credit cards are completely waterproof, so if you’re worried about them being submerged in the washing machine, rest assured that they were designed to withstand water.

The fact that credit cards are mostly plastic makes them completely waterproof. The non-plastic components are also sealed within the epoxy resin, which means even salt water can’t reach the metal components within.

These layers of plastic are sealed together using a high temperature press. Assuming that there are no scratches or cuts that compromise the integrity of the resinous coating, your card should be safe going through the washing machine and being completely submerged.

Heat Damage

One thing that will damage your credit card is heat. This is why the dryer is much more likely to damage your card than your washing machine.

Considering credit cards are made using a heated press, you would think that they can withstand heat. However, without the flat plates of the press holding the card in place, the plastic will warp under extreme temperatures.

The EMV chips can withstand temperatures up to 350oF, but by that stage the plastic of the card will have melted away. Generally, the plastic shouldn’t be heated to more than 135oF to avoid warping.

An average dryer can reach temperatures between 125oF and 135oF. Seeing as this is the upper limit for a credit card, prolonged exposure to these temperatures will likely warp the card and make it unusable. 

In saying that, you may be okay after a one-off incident, but you may not get as lucky the second time around. 

All this to say, the chances of damaging your credit card in a dryer is  much higher than within a washer.

However, if you are washing your clothes in hot water, your washing machine could also warp the plastic. The hot water in a washing machine usually reaches temperatures of 130oF. 

This is not quite enough to warp the card on its own, but it could soften the plastic and make it more likely to bend and therefore be damaged.

The problem with warping and bending your credit card is that the shape of the card will no longer fit in card machines. Changing the shape of the plastic could also damage the delicate wiring of the antenna within, or dislodge the EMV chip.

Physical Damage

Physical damage is another thing that may result in your credit card being deemed useless. 

If there are any type of scratches to the magnetic strip, or to the EMV chip, the fact of that matter is that they may not work.

However, it would be highly unlikely that anything in the washing machine would result in a scratch deep enough to damage the electronics of the card. 

Credit card companies design their cards to withstand everyday use for the length of the card’s lifecycle, which is at least three years. So you can be sure that these cards are pretty durable. 

While a cut through the card could also damage the antenna and electrical components, I highly doubt something like this is going to occur in a wash cycle.

However, one thing to consider is that scratches may cut through the protective coating of the card, allowing water to soak through. If the scratch happens to be over any of the electronic components, this could lead to some form of corrosion.

Chemical Damage

Credit cards are also designed to withstand chemicals, both alkaline and acidic. The epoxy resin coating can withstand chemicals such as cool hydrochloric acid, so any detergents used in the washing machine should be well protected.

Bleach can soften epoxy resin, but only in high concentration, so even this should be fine if it’s mixed in with your wash. 

Fun Fact: Bleach is actually one way you can clean your credit card after contact with a bacteria or virus, provided of course that it is then washed off the card.

What Should You Do if You Wash Your Credit Card?

As I mentioned, there is a very small chance that your credit card stops working after being run through the wash.

So once you’ve dried off your card, you should be good to go, but avoid using heat (like a hair dryer) to dry the card – Instead, simply use a cloth or paper towel.

If you are particularly worried that the internal electrical components have been exposed to water, you can use an absorption method to draw the moisture away from the card.

This is commonly done by sealing the card within a bag of dry rice and leaving it for a few days. The rice will then absorb any moisture within the bag which will dry out the credit card completely.

However, it’s unlikely that your card will need more than a simple wipe over with a cloth.

The more likely scenario is that your signature on the back will be washed off.  In this case, you should just re-sign the card. While it is a requirement of the bank that your credit card be signed, 99.9% of cashiers never check.

If the signature strip comes off completely, not only will it be harder to re-sign (you would have to use permanent marker), the CVV may  also be gone. 

Without your CVV number, you won’t be able to make online purchases in which case you’ll need a new card.

If your card has been significantly scratched or warped, there is no harm in trying to see if it still works, if so great, but I’d still recommend getting a new card as you really never know how long it’ll last for. 

But that’s just what I would do, if you want to wait for it to die out completely, there probably isn’t much harm in that either.

Related Financial Geek Article: How Long Do Credit Card Companies Keep Records of Purchase?

Conclusion 

In summary, your credit card will be fine if it accidentally goes through the wash.

It’s less likely to still work after going through the dryer, but even then it may still be okay to use –  as long as it hasn’t been warped or scratched.

Thanks for reading, as always I hope you found the information you were looking for. 

And don’t forget to empty your pockets! You won’t be as lucky with a phone!

Geek, out.

Noel Moffatt

Noel Moffatt is the founder and main contributor for his blog - The Financial Geek. Based in Canada, Noel's passion for personal finance has helped him amass over 300k readers to his Financial Geek blog.

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