Tip One: Don’t do this. But if you do accidentally wash your wallet, at least in Australia, you probably don’t need to panic too much. Alex’s note: This actually happened to me back in 2015, but it’s remained a persistently popular article ever since. So here it still is, in all its “try not to put your wallet through the washing machine” glory. I feel compelled to point out that I didn’t set out to actually put my wallet through the washing machine. It’s more the case that I’m an idiot/easily distracted (strike out where not applicable), and this morning I put through a pair of jeans in the wash with the smaller wallet from the excellent Bellroy Carry Out Wallet still in one of the jeans pockets.
Thankfully, the wallet itself didn’t really suffer that much damage as a result of its accidental run through the wash and spin cycle. The leather’s holding up fine, as is the stitching, although it is somewhat more wrinkled than it was before. I like to think it gives it character, or at least I think that’s what you’re meant to say when you’ve accidentally put something in the washing machine that had no business being there. It’s still a little damp, so it gets a day or two to rest in the sunshine, but it seems as though it’ll come through the whole ordeal just fine.
What did interest me more — because a wallet isn’t impossible to replace — was the state of the contents. Here being Australian had distinct advantages, because we use polymer banknotes that can survive a little washing detergent and water without any real problems. I should note that they went through a cold water cycle, so I can’t speak to how well they’d hold up on a really hot cycle.
Image: Michael Coghlan
Also I should point out, if anyone’s tempted, that actually deliberately destroying bank notes — in case you were thinking of putting that idea to the test to see how far, how much or how hot you’d have to make it before Aussie banknotes crumbled — would be an offence under the Crimes(Currency) Act 1981.
So, you know, don’t do it.
I only had two paper receipts to speak of, and not shockingly, they didn’t fare well. One shopping/petrol voucher was a complete writeoff, while another receipt survived well enough to be photographed.
That should be enough under Australian consumer law if I ever needed to claim on that receipt, although given its nature (a pest inspection, already completed) I don’t think I will.
What though, of my precious plastic cards?
My driver’s licence came through completely unscathed, as did (as far as I can tell) my medicare card, although I haven’t tried magnetically swiping it yet. Does anyone still actually do that anyway?
What I was curious about were the tap and go cards in my wallet; a Visa Paywave Debit Card and my NSW State Transport Opal Card. Again, not impossible to replace either, but a major pain in the backside and inconvenience that I could well do without.
Thankfully, the news again there was solid; the tap and go Paywave functionality of the card still works, and the Opal Card registers and knows how much credit my account has without a problem.
Alex’s 2023 update: That same Opal card — really, the exact same one — is still going strong in 2023. I know I could just use a credit card or even Apple or Google Pay these days, but it would feel like I was cheating on such a loyal and hard wearing card to do so!
Again, that’s without testing in hot water, where I suppose there could be some scope for melted plastic or damage. That makes sense when you think about it, because while contactless cards do integrate with systems that rely on electronic components with power running through them that most definitely would come out second best in a fight with a washing machine, contactless cards of this type are entirely passive. Nobody’s building tiny batteries inside these things in any way at all.
Is this a fully scientific test?
No, it’s only anecdotal data, really.
I haven’t taken 100 wallets and washed them all to see how cards of varying types survive in either hot or cold water, or with a variety of detergents.
As noted, in terms of the banknotes, it would be illegal, and in terms of the credit card I suspect my bank would tire of me coming in for fresh cards in large batches.
Neither have I carefully placed a “control” wallet in the sunshine to see if it spontaneously erupts with soapy water. I’m mildly confident that it wouldn’t, mind you.
Still if an accident does happen with your wallet and a washing machine, it may not be absolutely disastrous.