- Created on Friday, 02 September 2005 17:15
- Written by Clare Adrian
It’s always disconcerting to accidentally launder a dollar bill, more so, a ten or a twenty. And who hasn’t? Fortunately, a U.S currency note still comes out of the wash in a usable state and will remain in circulation longer than if it hadn’t been absolved. The most frequent reason money is removed from circulation is that it’s soiled, not that it fell apart after being run through a washer.At the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing, currency is deliberately washed, on a regular basis, to make sure it will be able to withstand at least that facet of normal everyday wear and tear, which more widely includes a multitude of spills, washes, folds and crumples while in daily usage.
On just another day at the lab laundromat in the Bureau’s Office of Technical Support, Testing and Analytical Services Division, various denominations of United States currency is run through the ringer for two reasons, explained Manager, Val DeVito, namely, to test ink adhesion to and strength of the paper, which is essentially cellulose of the flax plant. “The laundry test is one in a battery of tests we do that relates to the durability of currency. The reasons are that people do machine wash money accidentally and because it’s a harsh test to determine the fitness of the note for circulation. We don’t want our currency to be out there for someone to wash and have all the ink wash off.”
A comparatively miniscule fraction of this year’s 8.7 billion currency notes ordered by the Federal Reserve will be pulled and washed, which amounts to about five loads per week, from the twelve presses that produce the currency. The Testing and Analytical Services Division doesn’t have the manpower to test every single batch from every press process. Instead it conducts random statistical testing from a representation of each of the twelve presses. The presses turn out 32 note sheets and from those, the Division tests two phases of the printing process. One is the in-process phase, for which the notes are not completely printed. The fronts and backs are finished, minus the serial numbers. The other type of phase that is test-washed is the fully completed batches of notes ready to be sent out to the Federal Reserve.
Relative to the fiber content of currency, which is 75% cotton and 25% linen, the notes are washed on a regular wash and wear, cotton spin/dry cycle of a standard washing machine, with a typical powdered detergent, nothing special. Twenty-five from each process type are washed with eight government-issued white terry cloth towels. After completion of the final spin cycle, the damp notes are laid out on tables to dry overnight.
The next morning the bills are rated on a standard scale from 0 to 6, dependent on appearance. Those with most of the ink flaked or wiped off merit a low rating. Pristine ranks in at a six and a four is considered passing. DeVito added, “When we are testing experimental inks, we may not get a four or above but that gives us a tool to tell how we are doing and we go back to get it.”
The notes are washed only once and then destroyed. DeVito assured, “We know what to look for so it’s not necessary to wash them over.”
Bills are not subjected to multiple tests either. Some are smashed into tiny pellets while others are doused in bleach, gasoline or tetrachloroethylene, used in the dry cleaning process or one of six other solvents. “You can’t make something resistant to everything,” commented DeVito. And using the set of standards the Division has devised, it has seen very few failures.
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