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Clean Transport

Published on June 1st, 2015 | by James Ayre


Are Gas Pumps The Dirtiest Thing That You Touch?

June 1st, 2015 by  

Are gas pumps one of the dirtiest (contaminated with known pathogens) things that you can touch? Apparently so, based on the findings of a new study performed by Kimberly-Clark professionals while investigating “germ hot spots” as a component of the company’s Healthy Workplace Project.

While you probably won’t have too much trouble convincing most people that gas stations are filthy, the findings are still interesting, if unsurprising. Regardless of germs, though, one should probably be washing their hands after pumping gas anyways, owing to the chemical contamination that results.

gas pump


It’s pretty easy to visualize how the great quantity of pathogenic microbes on the pump handles found their way there — just think of every person who used the handle to pump gas over the last few weeks, and now think of the restroom breaks that tend to accompany gas stops, and I think that we have a pretty good starting point.

The new research was led by University of Arizona microbiologist Dr Charles Gerba. Considering that he is apparently known as “Dr Germ,” Gerba was probably a good choice for just such study.

The findings of the new work are pretty clear — 71% of all the gas-pump handles that were sampled were “highly contaminated” with sorts of microbes most highly associated with illness and disease.

I guess that makes for another advantage for electric vehicles. Whenever the next pandemic gets around to hitting, you can avoid picking up germs at congregating sites such as gas stations — instead, simply get your “fuel” at home (especially if you have an off-grid solar energy system). The story of electric vehicles and their significant consumer benefits just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

The other primary sites of contamination are interesting, if unsurprising, as well: the handles of street corner mailboxes (68%); ATM buttons (41%); and escalator railings (43%) lead that list. Yet other sites of notable contamination are fairly obvious as well: parking meters, kiosks of various kinds, crosswalk buttons, and vending machines.

Too bad that they don’t just use brass, copper, or bronze for all those surfaces right? Taking a page (if a rather expensive one) from the protocol of various militaries throughout history might do some good there.

But back to the EVs: Will this encourage more people to switch to home electricity for their transportation needs? I’m not so sure, but it’s certainly one more thing that EV owners and lessees can feel good about.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • JamesWimberley

    The handles on Tesla superchargers, on the other hand, are miraculously uncontaminated.

  • rockyredneck

    Next headline: Millions dying from dirty gas pumps. Honestly, does anyone actually believe charging stations will be any more free of pathogens. Personally, I have never heard of a single person getting sick from pumping their gas. If you are truly worried, use full service stations.

    I recently found a quote about the internet that is apt in this case and many others.

    “Every time you log on to the Internet, the words caveat emptor should flash in bright red.”

  • restroomdirect

    Firstly, I love my Leaf. I love not having to stop at a gas station at all. Of course I can’t go more than 70 miles, so it’s not for everyone. Secondly, I have always said that gas pumps are far dirtier than bathroom door handles, (in my writings and interviews for and it’s nice to see that a study has been done. But I agree with others here: we can’t get too paranoid about the germs out there. They are part of life and make us stronger. But do wash your hands, people!

  • Benjamin Nead

    I remember a bacteria experiment conducted in my 7th grade biology class, A Petri dish with agar was passed around and everyone in the class was asked to touch it. Then, another agar-filled Petri dish was to have only one person touching it. As chance would have it, I was in proximity to the instructor and I ended up being the chosen participant. The bacterial growth that appeared the next day was far more profuse in the dish with the agar I touched than the one all of us did (a fair amount of good natured ribbing from my classmates followed and this is why I’m probably remember all of this some 40+ years later.)

    In any event, the instructor wasn’t surprised by this and determined that the “cleaner” dish with more people touching appeared cleaner simply because everyone else’s hands were probably just as dirty as mine, but the action of so many people swiping their fingers in this “community” dish wiped away much of the bacteria . . . at least the more interesting looking stuff that was growing in “my” dish.

    So, a gas pump nozzle that’s constantly handled by a large number of people might actually be cleaner that one that isn’t handled as often. Also . . . the same sort of germs passed around on a gas nozzle are probably very similar to ones found on any public EVSE receptacle. Want to keep clean? Wash you hands often and carry a good supply of anti-bacterial wipes.

    • rockyredneck

      Just don’t lick your fingers after using a gas pump or the bathroom.

  • Edwin Franks

    Douglas Adams warned us about the dangers of mistreating our phone sanitisers.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Are gas pumps the dirtiest things I touch? According to Father O’Flannery, the answer to that is a big no.

    • Jouni Valkonen

      Of course you can use gasoline as powerful disinfectant agent.

      • Ronald Brakels

        That would spoil the taste.

  • cutter1954

    Speaking as someone hep b surface antibody positive without the vaccine (occupational risk) I have greater issues to worry hep c.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    This is a very humorous post. I’d like to point out the bottom of our shoes are probably filthy! Oh and then we walk inside our houses! Then there are all those people at the stores we shop at. You just know they are filthy and we have to breathe the same air. And if you are a swimmer. Think about those people that have been in the pool before you. YIKES! It’s so tough being part of the human race. But we all know gas station pump handles are the worst!!!

    • Dag Johansen

      Ivor O’Troller

      • Bob_Wallace

        No name calling, please.

        • Ivor O’Connor

          I might have deserved that.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Don’t think so. But, whatever…

    • Jouni Valkonen

      You should walk barefoots if your shoes are dirty.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        I would actually like going barefoot if the world were a simpler place and we didn’t have all those chemicals and what not almost everywhere. And I do swim most mornings in a public pool but so early as to usually have the pool to myself. I use good ear plugs and keep to myself since I’m easily grossed out. Despite this I’m not going to wear gloves at the gas pump!

        • Wayne Williamson

          I walk barefoot as often as I can. My neighbors think I’m nuts, walking the dog a mile or two each morning in barefeet. The only real trick is to watch out for the broken glass…

  • Dag Johansen

    I don’t touch them anymore. 🙂

  • Deep Time

    How about a link to the study?

  • Marion Meads

    The guy hasn’t been to the toilet or he’s using a Star Trek toilet.

    Toilet door handles in most restaurants and fast food places is the number 1, the hand rails on buses, money, pin pad machines where you touch to click yes after typing your credit card, phones that receive a regular spraying of your oral microbes…

    A little bit of exposure can build your immunity…

    • timbuck93

      Which is why I flush them with my SHOE (and yes I have to jump up just a tad to do so), and kick open the door. I don’t trust that many germs, it just doesn’t seem right.

    • TedKidd

      lol – reminds me of the guy who said fracking hadn’t affected well water, then declined to drink a sample.

      Next time you are at the gas station, grab a sandwich after grabbing the pump. Send us the video…

    • Jouni Valkonen

      At home however, toilet seat is one of the cleanest surfaces.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    It is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. We get the chance to exercise our immune system and become stronger!

    • Jouni Valkonen

      Not really. After few years, these pathogens have mutated and therefore learned immune system is useless. Germs are mostly always smarter than our immune system.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Keep getting your hands dirty.

        Stay current with evolution.

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