This Is the Dirtiest Thing at a Gas Station—And It’s Not in the Bathroom

Updated: Nov. 03, 2022

You may be touching this germ-ridden object way more than you think.

Gas-stationvytautas kielaitis/ShutterstockWhile some gas station restrooms are pleasantly cleaner and more modern than others, we’ve all come across the ones that just…aren’t. Without question, most people would assume that the restroom’s toilet seat is the dirtiest place in the station. Surprisingly, there are a lot of everyday things that are dirtier than a toilet seat—and this one of them.

What’s the dirtiest thing at the gas station?

As it turns out, the dirtiest thing at a gas station is the pump handle. This research was conducted by “Dr. Germ,” who’s more commonly known as University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba. According to CleanTechnica, Gerba’s work showed that “71 percent of all the gas-pump handles that were sampled were ‘highly contaminated’ with [the] sorts of microbes most highly associated with illness and disease.”

How do gas pumps get so dirty?

Gas pumps are things people can rarely avoid touching. As a result, a lot of people put their hands on them—and they may grab them without washing or sanitizing their hands first. According to Leann Poston, MD, this is especially true for travelers. “Travelers may have been in the car all day and not had access to soap and water, or may have used a restroom that did not supply soap and towels,” she explains.

It’s a simple formula: a common item people touch + people not washing their hands before they touch it = a thriving environment for germs. Plus, if people don’t properly sanitize their hands after touching the pump, they can spread germs to their most-used items.

How can people prevent germs from spreading?

Dr. Poston says there are a few effective ways to prevent germs from spreading at the gas pump. “Either use a paper towel over your hand when touching the gas pump so you don’t come in contact with it, or use hand sanitizer on your hands after pumping your gas,” she advises.

You should also pay attention to where, exactly, you’re putting your hands. “Avoid touching high-touch spots like door handles and push buttons as much as possible, and especially avoid using the pads of your fingers,” says Mark A. Schneegurt, PhD, a professor in the department of biological sciences at Wichita State University. “Pay special attention to the pads of your fingers and palms when washing.”

Some other tips include:

  • Wiping down the pump with a disinfecting wipe before picking up the handle
  • Wearing latex gloves when pumping gas
  • Using a touch-free payment option at the pump, if possible

What to know about COVID-19 and gas pumps

Questions around the spread of COVID-19 and gas pumps have come up since the pandemic began. While there are a few places where you’re most likely to catch coronavirus, the gas pump isn’t one of them. But even though there’s a low risk of getting the virus from a gas pump, it is important to note that some viruses can last up to 72 hours on hard surfaces such as metal and plastic. To be safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following tips for further reducing the risk of spreading a virus at the gas pump:

  • Use disinfecting wipes on handles and buttons
  • Sanitize hands with a sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol after touching the pump
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water at your earliest convenience

Schneegurt also suggests following social distancing guidelines and wearing a mask at the pump to reduce the risk of transmission.

Depending on what kind of car you have, you might be touching the gas pump way more than you’d like to admit. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself healthy while still running your essential errands.