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Drivers fear coronavirus risk from gas pumps, the filthiest common surface in America

Drivers of gas cars are expressing fears about contact with coronavirus at the pumps. Studies dating back to 2011 reveal that gas pumps are among the germiest surfaces in America.

A study by Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Kleenex and other personal-care products, found that 71% of gas pump handles were found to have high levels of contamination.

Viruses and bacteria are not the same thing, but virus contamination on public surfaces is a problem in a pandemic.

A Utah gas station that offers plastic gloves has recently seen an increase in use. Other patrons there were calling for sanitizing wipes next to the pumps.

If wipes aren’t available, then grab a few paper towels usually offered near the pumps to create a barrier between your hand and the pump, advises a local television station in Virginia. They also suggest using credit/debit cards rather than paying by cash.

Of course, electric car drivers do nearly all of their refueling safely at home. While the coronavirus threat is heightened, home charging provides yet another advantage for EV drivers.

Gas stations, which are considered essential, remain open during the coronavirus threat. During other natural disasters, the distributed system of home charging remains available when drivers of gas-powered vehicles get stuck. EVs can even be a source of energy during power outages. Often times, they are charged via homeowner solar.

Charging at a DC fast charger poses some risk, but those locations don’t get exposure to the hundreds of people per day using gas pumps. And, instead of swiping credit cards and keying in security codes, most DC fast chargers can be paid for by app.

The filthiest common surface

In the Kimberly-Clark study, hygienists swabbed hundreds of surfaces in six US cities. Public mailboxes, escalator rails, and ATM buttons were among the worst for bacteria and viruses. But what was the number-one filthiest spot? Gas pumps.

Let’s not even think about what’s lurking in a public bathroom at a gas station. Maybe better to hold it.

However, gas-pump handles have 11,000 times more bacteria than the common household toilet seat, according to a study conducted by, a travel-by-bus website. That limited study found that public EV charging stations also posed risks, but could be avoided by charging at home.

There are few hard rules for how long viruses can live on some surfaces — like a gas pump or credit-card terminal that could stay contaminated for hours or days.

A March 13 study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control, and multiple universities compared the novel coronavirus with SARS-CoV-1, the most closely related human coronavirus and the virus responsible for the 2003 epidemic.

The study found that the coronavirus could survive up to three days on stainless steel and plastic surfaces, which are materials used for gas pumps.

The number one recommendation by health researchers? Wash your hands as soon as possible.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.