Your credit card is likely to work if a little water splashes on it, but run it through the wash, spin, and drying laundry cycles, and you could have a major problem. That may seem counterintuitive given that credit cards appear to be made of regular, dryable plastic. But the advanced technology integrated into swipe strips and the security chip can make otherwise reliable plastic very unreliable if negatively impacted. Given that these convenient ways to access funds are commonly left in our pockets, the elephant in the room is: Does a credit card work after being washed?

What Happens When Your Credit Card Gets Wet?

It’s true that credit cards are resilient pieces of plastic that can be easily dried off and generally used without issue. That is, unless it becomes soaked and begins to peel. Even though the swipe strip and security chip have some magnetic aspects, those are not necessarily impacted by plain old water. In terms of it going through the laundry, the problem is that cleaning our soiled clothing requires chemical detergents. Those can prove problematic. So, will credit card work after washing it with detergents, bleaches, and maybe a driver sheet. Probably not.

Situations that Ruin Credit Cards

Understanding that it’s not necessarily the water that causes credit cards to malfunction, these are more common ways that valuable plastic can be rendered worthless.

  • Wash Cycles: The harsh chemicals used to clean clothing tend to make the protective coating peel off.
  • Drying Cycles: The high temperatures used to dry clothing can cause the card to bend and become unusable.  
  • Folding: Heat cycles can make the plastic malleable, and folding it inside clothing may disrupt the magnetic strip's ability to work with credit card machines.
  • Wear & Tear: Regardless of how diligently we protect a credit card, repeat use will inevitably cause it to wear out.

What to Do if Your Credit Card Stops Working?

At some point, we all make the common misstep of allowing a credit card to go through the wash and dry cycles. After that, chances are it's kaput. When that happens, promptly call customer service and request a replacement. I have been unaware that my card was damaged and experienced an embarrassing failed swipe. Fortunately, the cashier was able to manually type in the number. That should suffice until a new card arrives.

“The signature and CVV code on the back are the first to go when credit cards end up in the washing machine.”

What to do With a Wet Credit Card?

It’s essential to handle a wet credit card with diligent care when drying it off. When people reach for a towel or cloth and just wipe away the water, that increases the risk of damaging the processor chip and strip. These tend to be quite delicate, especially in already worn cards.

Measures to Protect the Wet Card

Consider gently patting the wet credit card with a soft and absorbent material. Non-chemical tissue or eyeglass lens materials may be good choices because they are less likely to scrape away the essential imprinted elements of the card. Most of all, don’t panic if a card becomes damaged. I find that customer service professionals are quite helpful. Besides, most of us have more than one card at our disposal.