Like any other technological devices, a credit card machine is not immortal – and neither are we in the face of certain germs. Yet it’s easy to forget the influence a card machine can have on the spread of viral conditions like the coronavirus, or that inside a terminal, a brigade of dirt can slowly disable the tech over time.

Your reason for cleaning a payment terminal will determine how and how often you’ll want to sanitise it, which we’ll come to further below. First, these are the main reasons why businesses clean their card machines:

1. To prevent the spread of germs

It’s logical when you think of it: customer after customer will enter their PINs with the same buttons, perhaps holding the terminal in their hands. Employees at the till will rip off receipts, touch the keypad and move it around on the counter.

If someone with a bacterial infection left their germs on the surface and another person picks it up, the onus is on the unaware person to wash their hands before touching their face in order to prevent infection. It is more responsible for a business to disinfect the card machine regularly to prevent this from happening.

What’s the worst payment carrier of infections? Banknotes, especially cotton-based bills. Card machines are generally cleaner, but still a significant hub for bacteria.

What’s the best way to keep a card machine free of germs? To accept contactless tap payments, entirely avoiding physical touch.

2. To prolong the life of the device

Technology is delicate underneath its surface. Debris that slips through the cracks between PIN pad buttons can mess with the technology, causing sudden or gradual issues.

Similarly, the card slot can accumulate dirt inside, which can mess with the card reading technology. Therefore, keeping your card machine clean helps to prolong its life.

contactless phone payment

Contactless payments are most hygienic, as customers won’t leave or pick up germs that way.

Step-by-step cleaning process

So how should you clean or disinfect a card terminal? There are different ways to do it.

If you just need to keep it clean and don’t have to consider germs, you can just focus on removing grease, dust, debris, fibres, food, dirt etc. If you want to reduce the likelihood of spreading bacteria, disinfecting the surfaces becomes necessary. We cover both in the following steps.

What to use:

  • General cleaning: Soft, damp cloth dipped in a soap solution of just a drop of washing-up liquid in a small cup of warm water. Microfibre cloths are good, but any soft, lint-free cloth can work. Use a dry cloth for more sensitive areas on the terminal.

  • Disinfecting: Use disposable, disinfectant wipes specifically for electronic devices, or a soft cloth sprayed with disinfectant cleaning spray for electronics. A push-button terminal may need different wipes or spray than a touchscreen smart terminal, as the latter has a protective layer that could be affected by e.g. alcohol solutions.

  • Cleaning the card slot: Use a ‘cleaning card’ made specifically for card readers.

  • Beware: Only use an alcohol or other solvent-based solution if you know your terminal model can take it (some manufacturers advise against it).

Credit: POS Supply Solutions / Waffletechnology

Cleaning cards for chip and swipe readers.

Credit: Ecomoist

Ecomoist screen cleaner

Spray cleaner suitable for card machines.

General no-nos:

  • Do not spray any liquid directly on the card machine.

  • Whether you’re using a throwaway wipe or reusable cloth, make sure it isn’t so moist it can leave drops of liquid on a surface. It should be moist, but wring it first if the wetness is excessive.

  • Especially the openings, such as the card slot or gaps around buttons, should not have moisture exposure as this might seep into the internal machinery and damage it.

What to do:

  • Before you clean the credit card machine for the first time, read your manufacturer’s instructions for this process. Certain things, like the type of cleaning product used, can nullify the warranty of the device.
  • If the card machine is plugged into a power socket, unplug it, and switch off of the terminal (if possible).

  • Carefully rub the exterior of the card machine with the wipe or cloth, one surface at a time. Be particularly thorough around buttons and sides where people tend to grab the terminal. If an area gets too wet, immediately wipe it with a dry cloth or paper towel.

  • Use the cleaning card (for chip and swipe slots) according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Wash your hands afterwards. Switch the card machine back on again if it was switched off before.

How often you should clean the card machine depends on the questions: Is there a good reason to clean it more frequently in your type of business? Are viruses currently ripe? If so, you should aim to clean it as often as possible – in the latter case, (ideally) after each time it was touched by a customer.

If you just want to keep it clean so it lives longer, once a week may be sufficient, or more frequently if you work in the food industry or other environments where the terminal can easily accumulate dirt. Whatever the circumstances, if you notice dirt on the terminal, clean it straight away.

How to clean and disinfect credit cards

Did you know that the credit and debit cards in your wallet could be the most contaminated things in your bag? Just like germ-filled cash, payment cards can spread bacteria. That’s why we recommend cleaning the cards regularly in one of the following ways:

  • Wipe down the card with a disinfectant wipe, then leave it to dry.

  • Use a damp cloth to wipe the card all over, then an eraser to remove build-up especially on the magnetic stripe (might not remove all bacteria).

  • Use a UV light sanitiser, which kills 99.9% of the bacteria on the surface.

Other ways to prevent spread of germs

What if it’s too much of a hassle to clean the card terminal this often when you’re trying to prevent the spread of germs? There are a few hacks you can implement.

  • Keep the credit card machine behind the counter, away from customers’ reach. When someone needs to pay by card, encourage the customer to use contactless while you hold the terminal.

  • A physical payment card can be used for tap payments below £30. Higher amounts can be accepted via Apple Pay or Google Pay which don’t have strict transaction limits. If you’ve installed a mobile wallet limit on the terminal, consider removing it.

  • If a customer can’t pay via contactless, hand the terminal to the customer for a chip and PIN payment and clean it before the next person handles it.

  • Touchscreen smart POS terminals can be used with a screen protector. If your manufacturer prohibits the use of alcohol-based solutions on the device, using a screen cover can enable you to sanitise it with alcohol as long as you’re careful to avoid wiping around the screen.

  • Wrap the terminal in cling film or other plastic, wipe with a disinfectant solution every time it’s handled by a customer, and change the cover daily.

Credit: CCV

Card terminal wetcover

Wetcover for PIN pad.

  • For some card machine models, you can buy a rubber cover (“wetcover”) to fit over the keypad, primarily to protect it from liquid spills. This can also make it easier to clean, for example by taking it off after each PIN entry and quickly wiping it without having to unplug or switch off the terminal.

  • Make sure that staff follows a hand-washing routine to get rid of germs potentially picked up while cleaning, or use (clean) protective gloves.

In your business, assess which routines would best work for you, train employees to follow them, and be careful not to get too lax with the steps. Sanitising can get boring, but the gains are greater than you might notice.