How Clean Are Netflix DVDs?

Netflix DVDs and their envelopes pass from hand to hand, and from home to home, with all sorts of interesting opportunities for contamination. What sorts of bacteria are on them? A Texas local news team set out to find out and discovered…well, not much of anything likely to kill you. Sorry to disappoint.

We began our test by unsealing each Netflix envelope. We removed each disk from its sleeve, and the lab supervisor swabbed them front and back. Once each petri-dish was swabbed, the plates were placed inside an incubator.

A few days later, we found at least four different kinds of bacteria growing inside the plates. But it wasn’t what Dr. Wallace expected.

“They were fairly clean,” said Wallace. “If I took my fingers and laid them on the top of the plates, this is what you’d grow.”

As for the disks themselves, Wallace said he found nothing that could potentially cause disease.

Netflix under the microscope…literally [KLTV] (via Hacking Netflix)

(Photo: Kimaroo)

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  1. Phaper says:

    Now try a Blockbuster DVD, I think you would find much more interesting results.

    Good to see that Netflix DVDs are clean, to an extent. I thought you’d find something harmful with flu season going around at the moment.

    • Julia789 says:

      Flu is mostly transmitted through the air – coughing, sneezing, etc. It does not survive on surfaces very long. Certain strains of flu live on surfaces longer than others, but H1N1 appears to only survive on surfaces a few hours.

      Colds can survive on surfaces longer than flu. Bacteria can survive on surfaces much longer than viruses, depending on the type of bacteria. They tend to be tougher outside the body.

    • mariospants says:

      Regardless of the stupidity of the general public, 99% of DVD users likely hold the DVD with their index finger in the hole and the thumb on the edge. So why is the lab technician in the video swabbing the FACE of the DVD? You likely won’t find any bacteria there, plus you can actually SEE if there are any finger prints. They were wasting their time. They just didn’t swab in the right places.

      Also, “Highlander 2″??? OK, seriously folks, if you chose a movie NOBODY in 2009 EVER WOULD RENT, of COURSE there wouldn’t be any bacteria. Cobwebs and tumbleweeds maybe, but nothing living.

  2. Dondegroovily says:

    Naturally. All these “Look at all the bacteria, ohmygosh!!!!!!!” stories always neglect to look at whether any of the bacteria is actually harmful. Finally someone actually did a proper test.

  3. TehQ says:

    People are so germ crazy that it actually makes it worse. You need some germs in your life or you don’t build up tolerance to it. You can keep things clean but don’t bleach everything or sterilize everything.

    • The Marionette says:

      True. This guy I knew was a germaphobe and would sterilize almost everything before he touched it. I explained to him that our bodies have an immune system for a reason and part of that immune system is building up tolerance to things.

      Anyways, nobody would have to worry about dirty dvds if they pirated everything ;)

  4. mbd says:

    I prefer my Netflix DVD’s cooked in coconut oil…

  5. Winteridge2 says:

    yeah, but, how clean are the contents?

  6. Paladin_11 says:

    I’m sorry, do they think we’re visiting Martians?

    DVD disks are not exactly a wonderful medium for growing bacteria. Now the paper packing materials, maybe. Sill, I refuse to live in fear of a future of laser-resistant bacteria exterminating us all.

  7. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    since most of the disks rotate in and out of the same distribution centers, i’d find it interesting to see this done nationwide. not that i think they’d find anything deadly. but it would be a neat way to see if different kinds of bacteria are more prevalent in different parts of the country

  8. pmr12002 says:

    Couldn’t the cleanliness of the disks be partially due to the irradiation of the mail?

    • ShadowFalls says:

      Well many things are possible. Also is possible that Netflix cleans the discs when the receive them back from everyone. This would certainly make sense if you wanted to make sure your discs were in good, working condition. Though it would be an interesting question to ask Netflix.

    • Nick1963 says:

      I thought the post office only irradiated government mail.

  9. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Maybe Netflix can put on its packaging “Helps Your Immunity!” and it wouldn’t necessarily be false if it only appeared on DVDs of medical documentaries.

  10. pixiegirl says:

    The Redbox DVD’s are another story. I got one the other day was sticky and I didn’t even want to know what it was. *gags*

    I do have to say that I’m impressed that Netflix actually wipes the disks down in between use.

  11. H3ion says:

    Science marches on. Really, the letter you got from your Aunt Susie sat in a mailbox with hundreds of other letters. Then was sorted at some mail sorting facility that may have been one of the facilities inspected for anthrax. Then it went into some mailman’s bag and finally to you. And your Aunt Susie probably has a serious gum disease and when she licked the envelope, the bacteria were transferred to the envelope.

    The only way to be sure is to irradiate each piece of mail at your front door. And then some bacteria will mutate that is immune to radiation.

  12. Keep talking...I'm listening says:

    I’d be interested to see what is growing on the DVDs from the local porno rental store.

  13. enabler says:

    Netflix was featured the other night on Nightline. They showed an employee using what appeared to be some quick spinning buffer. I can’t recall ever getting a disc from them with many fingerprints. Light scratches, sure, but not prints.

  14. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    Who is that handsome kitteh up there? I feel like I’ve seen him before.

  15. rpm773 says:

    Regardless, I’m still glad I finally stopped eating off of Netflix discs a few months months ago.

  16. Trai_Dep says:

    That’s why I always take a steel wool pad to the NetFlix discs in my neighbor’s mailbox… Just in case.

  17. pervy_the_clown says:

    I swab my own disks at home.

  18. Tim says:

    I think Netflix cleans it DVDs between rentals. Not with anything antibacterial, just with a basic cleaner to make sure they can still play.

    • lilyHaze says:

      When I netflixed, I usually cleaned my discs with those cd/dvd cleaners (the spinny thing with the liquid solution). I was more worried about playability than actual cleaniness.

      Of course I never licked those discs either..

  19. Ihaveasmartpuppy says:

    I’ve always wondered about what lurks in library books. One that I have out now is kind of yucky…

    • elleeldritch says:

      Personally, I wouldn’t think too hard about that. Adult books may not be so bad, but I can only imagine how many snot nosed kids have handled their books.. *shudders*

    • BytheSea says:

      I know a librarian who got ringworm from the books. Last Sept I got a nasty, nasty case of poison ivy that I know wasn’t from outdoors b/c I hadn’t been woodsing in ages and I always wash off with poison ivy soap when I do. Be very wary when you check out board books. Sometimes they come in soggy. Also, I clean a lot of pubes out of the spines.

    • kaceetheconsumer says:

      I just hate it when you finally get a book on hold you’ve waited for and then it reeks of cigarette smoke. Ewwwwwwwwwwwww.

  20. 2 replies says:

    The bacteria may not kill you, but it won’t stop you from getting sick if you’re renting a Pauly Shore or Twilight movie.

  21. Viper_Bravo says:

    Pull a 1$ bill out of your wallet and have it check for bacteria, drugs, excrement and more. It Will all be on it. So all n all, ill stick with my NexFlix disc. lol

  22. parrotuya says:

    What a relief!

  23. elleeldritch says:

    Thank god! I was getting worried my habit of licking the dvds was going to make me sick! /sarcasm

  24. BytheSea says:

    Aside from the cleaning at the NF mothership, and the time in the mail w/out a water base to proliferate, there’s also the time in the player. My computer gets too hot to touch in some places when I play DVDs.

    • Coelacanth says:

      Could be one of those wonderful strains of bacteria that resist extreme environments? Ever wonder how PCR (to analyze DNA) works?

  25. tanker_todd says:

    Did anyone think to test the cleanliness of a library book as a comparison? How about a school textbook? Judging from what I’ve seen in books I’d say they would be gross, and we’re not even considering the Seinfeld book-in-the-bathroom rule.

    • DangerMouth says:

      You just had to say that, didn’t you?

      I can always tell when my OCD is getting worse when I start worrying about library books.

  26. kaceetheconsumer says:

    I’ve learned the hard way that playing many-times-rented/borrowed VHS tapes can gunk up your VCRs heads. Kind of like VD for electronics.

    But gunky CDs don’t play and have to be cleaned first anyway. I’ve had kid DVDs out of the library that had red and brown goo on them and smelled of PB&J, so I’m happy to believe that that’s all it was, and I cleaned it off.

  27. DanFromDetroit says:

    I’d be interested in which movies they rented – Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke would have had hilarious results growing in the petri dish

  28. friday3 says:

    There are far more dangerous places for bacteria transfer like a public restroom, any door knob, a hotel bed, an airplane. an enclosed office, a bus, the mall, etc. I wouldn’t spend a second worrying about this sort of thing. Remember before Netflix or any video rentals there was similar free concept called the library. I havent read about the great library death plague from bacteria on books etc.

    • subtlefrog says:

      In January I’m putting together a lab for a load of high school biology kids to swab and culture things – I’ll get some to do library books and see if they come up with anything interesting…

  29. NotYou007 says:

    I’m going to sneeze on Milk before I return it today. Take that all you folks that rent Milk on Blu-Ray from Netflix. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

    • Keavy_Rain says:

      I see no point in renting Blu-Ray’s from Netflix. I just watch the movie on DVD or Instant Watch and, if I like it, I buy it on the cheaper format, unless one format offers better bonus features.

      It’s all about the bonus features, yo.

  30. YardanCabaret says:

    So an item that people are paranoid to touch for fear of scratching/scuffing/marking in some way so that it won’t play don’t have much bacteria on them? Well color me unsurprised.

  31. pdxazn says:

    It would not have more virus than the money in your pocket. The test is a waste of money.

  32. consumerd says:

    unless you are going to live you life inside of a bubble, that’s probably not terribly bad. Hell they could have done the test with money as well and probably get the same type of results.

  33. bcsus83 says:

    I have to wonder what they would’ve found on the edges of the discs, where normal people typically handle them…but it is interesting that there is almost nothing there.

  34. amuro98 says:

    Um. Duh? Most people aren’t going to be using plastic discs to wipe their a**, and it’s not as though a plastic disc not normally used in food preparation is going to be exposed to nasty bugs and whatnot…

  35. ABBailey1981 says:

    WOW after years of reading the Consumerist never have I seen or expected to see an article linked to my hometown News, let alone ABC Channel 7 KLTV. Good to see Joe Terrell is still going at it. Thought I would finally feel somewhat special. I have to say I haven’t lived there since 2001 though.