Zimbabweans wash dirty US dollars with soap, water

2010-07-06 15:17

The washing machine cycle takes about 45 minutes – and George

Washington comes out much cleaner in the Zimbabwe-style laundering of dirty


Low-denomination US bank notes change hands until they fall apart

here in Africa, and the bills are routinely carried in underwear and shoes

through crime-ridden slums.

Some have become almost too smelly to handle, so Zimbabweans have

taken to putting their $1 bills through the spin cycle and hanging them up to

dry with clothes pins alongside their sheets and clothes.

It’s the best solution – apart from rubber gloves or disinfectant

wipes – in a country where the US dollar has long been the currency of choice

and where the lifespan of a dollar far exceeds what the US Federal Reserve


Zimbabwe’s coalition government officially declared the US dollar

legal tender last year to eradicate world record inflation of billions of

percent in the local Zimbabwe dollar as the economy collapsed.

The US Federal Reserve destroys about 7 000 tons of worn-out money

every year. It says the average $1 bill circulates in the US for about 20 months

– nowhere near its African life span of many years.

Larger denominations coming in through banks and formal import and

export trade are less soiled. But among Africa’s poor, the $1, $2, $5 and $10

bills are the most sought after. Dirty $1 bills can remain in circulation at

rural markets, bus parks and beer halls almost indefinitely, or at least until

they finally disintegrate.

Still, banks and most businesses in Zimbabwe do not accept torn,

Scotch-taped, scorched, defaced, exceptionally dirty or otherwise damaged US


Zimbabweans say the US notes do best with gentle hand-washing in

warm water. But at a laundry and dry cleaner in eastern Harare, a machine cycle

does little harm either to the cotton-weave type of paper. Locals say chemical

“dry cleaning” is not recommended – it fades the colour of the famed


Storekeeper Jackie Dube hasn’t yet taken up the advice of friends

to start washing the often damp and stinking US dollars she receives for the

garments and cheap Chinese consumer goods she sells in Harare. It’s

time-consuming, she says, but notes stinky bills are a problem.

“I get rid of the worst of the notes as soon as I can in change,”

she said.


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