Pandemic or No Pandemic, Clean Your Hands at Gas Pumps

by Lori Straus

You’ve likely been told over the years to wash your hands after going to the washroom and also after handling cash. In fact, some stores won’t even handle cash today for fear of transmitting the coronavirus. (The Bank of Canada has asked stores not to do so, because not everyone has access to plastic.) But did you know that gas pumps are a haven for germs?

Hands of man in blue protective gloves are spraying disinfectant on gear lever and wipe with a cloth. Coronavirus or Covid-19 protection.Gas Pumps = Germ Pumps?

Back in 2011, hygiene giant Kimberly-Clark released the results of a study they had conducted. They swabbed hundreds of surfaces in six American cities to see which ones were the dirtiest and harboured the most germs. The winner wasn’t money or toilets. It was gas pump handles. A small-scale study that swabbed three gas pumps in one American city in 2016 found levels of germs similar to what Kimberly-Clark had reported five years prior.

Can You Get COVID-19 from Gas Pumps?

This is where I need to state that we’re not infectious disease experts. Because the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive on surfaces for anywhere from a few hours to a few days, gas pumps can be a likely transmission point. The World Health Organization says this about the virus’s longevity on surfaces:

The most important thing to know about coronavirus on surfaces is that they can easily be cleaned with common household disinfectants that will kill the virus. Studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard.

As always clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Gas pump handles are usually made of plastic, so there does seem to be cause for concern.

Keeping Your Hands Clean at Gas Pumps

If you haven’t done so by now, keep an effective hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in your vehicle. When it comes time to use the pump, wipe the buttons and handle down with the disinfectant wipe. One word of caution: your disinfectant wipes may require you to wait for several minutes before touching the surfaces, so they may not be practical at the gas pump. Alternatively, you can use disposable gloves that you then throw out immediately. (Take off disposable gloves from the inside and turn them inside out as you peel them off your hands.)

When you have finished, sanitize your hands as soon as possible. Then wash your hands in warm soap and water at your final destination, as the World Health Organization advises. (And leave them away from your face the entire time.)

Don’t Stop Sanitizing After COVID-19

These studies were conducted before COVID-19 became a problem. They uncovered a host of other germs that might make you sick. So even after this pandemic has passed, continue practising good hand hygiene at gas pumps. It could make your life much easier in the future.