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It’s something you probably use multiple times a day but have you ever stopped and wondered: hang on, what is money made of, exactly?

In the US at least, you’d be tempted to think it’s made from paper. After all, Beyoncé didn’t sing about how the “best revenge is your paper” for nothing.

But you may be surprised to hear that this actually isn’t the case, at least not strictly speaking. Sure, it may look like money is made of trees, but you may have a slight inkling that that’s wrong if you’ve ever miraculously pulled a surviving ten dollar bill out of the pocket of some clothing that’s been through the wash.

So keep reading to find out just where your money is coming from – including an interesting link to the jeans you’ve probably worn this week!

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What is money made of?

Money in the United States is made from a blend of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton, with each bill having tiny blue and red synthetic fibers running through it. Coins, however, are made from a mixture of copper and nickel, with certain denominations containing zinc and manganese too.

The fact that bills are mostly made of cloth ensures that this money is much more durable than typical wood pulp paper.

After all, have you ever accidentally run a bill through the washing machine when you left it behind in a pocket – and it came out perfectly fine? This is because it’s not actually paper, which would disintegrate in the wash, not to mention that this would cause a lot more issues in terms of people ripping their cash in their day to day lives.

$20 dollar bills in a wallet as an example of money made of cotton and linen

What are coins made of?

Most US coins are made of 91.67% copper and 8.33% nickel. However, a penny consists of mostly zinc (97.5%) with some copper (2.5%), while a dollar coin is mostly copper (88.5%) with some zinc (6%), manganese (3.5%) and nickel (2%). 

That is, when it comes to what are coins made of, pennies and dollar coins are the outliers in terms of their composition. However, there’s another exception in terms of the nickel itself, which (unsurprisingly, perhaps) has more nickel in it than the others. Specifically, it contains 75% copper and 25% nickel.

All of these varying compositions are how each type of coin turns out to be different colors, sizes and weights.

What are $100 bills made of?

American $100 bills are made from 75% cotton and 25% linen, like other US bills. They also contain the red and blue fibers running through the note, which are added for security purposes to deter counterfeiters.

That is, the red and blue threads aren’t there to make the bill sturdier, nor are they some sort of show of patriotism. Instead, they’re an important security feature in US currency.

In fact, the threads in a $100 bill are imprinted with the letters “USA” and the number “100”. If you can get your hands on a $100 bill, hold it up to the light and you’ll be able to see this yourself.

100 dollar bills made of cotton and linen

What is money made from in the UK?

Money in the UK is made from polymer, with these plastic notes having entered circulation in 2016. Before then, UK money was made from a combination of cotton and linen, similar to what US money is made of today.

More countries these days are switching to polymer – or plastic – notes. Australia led the way in developing this type of money, first issuing these as currency in 1988. A number of others have since followed suit, including the UK.

There was a slight controversy when this happened as the UK’s new banknotes apparently include a small amount of animal fat. 

Over 138,000 people signed a petition demanding that this be removed but the Bank of England decided to keep the notes as they were. This was partly because the alternative would have been switching to palm oil, which definitely comes with its own environmental concerns.

(For what it’s worth, apparently Canada and Australia have the same issue in terms of what their money is made of.)

stack of 20 pound notes as an example of what money is made from in the UK

When it comes to coins in the UK, because of their different sizes and colors, they each have different compositions, as follows:

  • Two pounds: 75% copper and 25% nickel
  • One pound: nickel-brass
  • Fifty pence: 75% copper and 25% nickel
  • Twenty pence: 84% copper and 16% nickel
  • Ten pence: 94% mild steel and 6% nickel
  • Two and one pence: 94% mild steel and 6% copper

Interestingly, the exact composition of the one pound coin hasn’t been released by the Royal Mint. This may tie into the fact that they say on that page that it’s the “most secure coin in the world”.

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Is money made of trees?

Money isn’t made of trees or any sort of wood fiber that may come from a tree. Instead, in the US, it’s made from a combination of cotton and linen to ensure greater durability. In other countries, money is often made of polymer.

That is, while money may not grow on trees, it doesn’t come from trees either. This is definitely a good thing as if you’ve ever seen a piece of paper be destroyed by a few drops of water, you don’t really want that to happen to your money. Just imagine what that could do to your liquid net worth

Is money made from trees in the UK?

Money isn’t made from trees in the UK. It’s made from polymer, which is a type of plastic, with the specific synthetic material that it’s made from being called biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP).

In addition to the fact that we don’t need to cut down forests of trees to make this money, polymer notes are also considered more environmentally friendly based mainly on their longer life expectancy. That is, polymer notes are expected to last 2.5 times longer than a paper note which, in turn, gives them a carbon footprint that’s 16% lower than paper money.

Is money made of paper or cotton?

In the US, money is not made of paper. Instead, it’s made from a mixture of 75% cotton and 25% linen. In many other countries, money isn’t made of paper or cotton and is instead a form of plastic.

As mentioned earlier, this definitely helps give the money more strength – which is certainly a good thing when you consider how many hands money goes through in its lifetime, being folded and shoved into hundreds of wallets and pockets.

In fact, it’s actually been said that it would take 4,000 double folds forwards and backwards to tear a banknote. At the same time, while I’m not here to doubt the US government agency that said this, I’ve also seen ripped bills so…you be the judge.

Is money made out of denim?

All US money is made of a blend of 75% cotton and 25% linen. Of that, about 30% of the cotton used in US money is made out of denim scraps from the garment industry. The rest is from other scrap textiles meaning that, to a point, money is made out of denim in the US.

On this point, this is a hilarious article on a problem that arose in the 90s. That was when spandex and lycra were added to jeans to give them some stretchiness as stretchy jeans came into fashion. However, this meant that jeans were no longer 100% denim and even a single fiber of spandex can apparently destroy a batch of paper that was destined to be used to make money.

Fortunately, a solution was found, with the cotton used in money these days coming from the “natural fiber”. So you can breathe a sigh of relief – and keep enjoying your stretchy jeans. Who knows, wearing them could be a really easy way to attract money into your life!

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About the author

Anna is the founder of LogicalDollar and a personal finance expert, having been seen in Forbes, HuffPost, Reader’s Digest, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, CreditCards.com and many more. She’s committed to helping others get on the path to financial freedom using the experience gained from turning $60,000 in debt into a thriving investment portfolio. Find out more.