Salt Water and Vending Machines

Will pouring salt water into the coin slots of vending machines induce them to dispense free product?

Claim:   Pouring salt water into the coin slots of vending machines will induce them to dispense free product.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2001]

One of my friends told me that if you poured salt water into a pop machine’s coin slot, it would spew out loads of free pop … sounds dubious to me.


Origins:   Free soda, you say? All for pouring a little salt water into the coin slot?

Possibly thanks to a suggestion made on an episode of MacGyver (an action-adventure U.S. television series that ran from 1985 to 1994), teens in the mid-1990s were inspired to try their hands at salting, a practice which involved pouring salt water into the coin slots of vending machines. The saline solution acted as a conductor, causing the units to jackpot both money and product as described below:

How to Rob Pop Machines for Money and Pop

Take an empty 2 litre bottle of pop and fill it with lukewarm water.
Then put about a good 1/2 cup of salt in and mix it up real well. Go
find a fairly deserted pop machine late at night, and make a
funnel with a rolled up newspaper. Then stick the
funnel in the slot where you deposit your money, and slowly start
pouring the salt water into the coin slot (get a brave friend to do this).

The water will run down the METAL and into the coin box. In the coin
box, there are two little “switches”. One gives out pop when it is
activated, and the other gives out change. When the water runs down in
between them, the water conducts electricity and short circuits them.
The pop machine will then start to randomly shoot out pop and money.


Illegal or not, that practice provided too good an opportunity for any number of youngsters to pass up. In June 1994, three youngsters arrested and charged for salting in Macomb County, Michigan, had 154 cans of pop in their possession, the results of an evening-long spree. They were representative of what was going on elsewhere.

Each case of such vandalism was estimated to cost about $600 in loss of money and product, damage to the select panel and coin mechanisms,

sales downtime, and the cost of repair. Those “free sodas” were proving to be expensive.

The vending machine companies fought back the only way they could: They improved the technology. Salting was eliminated by moving the coin
slot to a different part of the machine, perforating the coin channel so that salt water wouldn’t flow through it, and mounting the bill validator above the coin channel to block access to it. Older machines were retrofitted with diverters that directed fluids away from the coin channel but allowed coins to travel their usual smooth path into the coin box.

Bathing the coin slot of a vending machine with a salt water benediction to gain freebies is now a thing of the past. Very few machines that could be influenced by such a baptism are still around, making this a pointless exercise in futility. It’s still one that will get you in trouble with the law, though, as one out-of-date crook found out back in 2007:

A pair of Memphis businesses would have been better off in the pocketbook if a would-be-thief had done a little research on his or her method of delivery.

Officer Terry Simerl reported that vandal(s) attempted to pour a saltwater solution into the coin mechanisms of a pair of vending machines with the false belief it would cause a short in the machines, forcing them to spew out money or product.

But according to, an authority of such urban legends, the prospective thieves had little hope for success.

Unfortunately for the two local businesses, and prospectively for the would-be-thieves, they did not do their homework prior to trying the old technique. Simerl stated the vandal(s) is facing felony charges due to the amount of damage the saltwater did to the coin changer at the car wash and the soda vending machine.


Besides the risk of being caught and charged with theft, those who engage in salting may put themselves in other forms of jeopardy. On 21 August 1995, ten-year-old Shawn Ramanauskas was electrocuted by a candy machine in Alabama. The family’s attorneys argued the unit had been improperly connected to an ungrounded electrical outlet and that other guests had complained two days prior to the fatality that they were getting painful shocks from that cluster of vending machines. Given that the purpose of salting is to short circuit a machine’s electricals, an improperly grounded unit could prove deadly to a kid looking to scam some free product with the help of a saline solution. (There’s no reason to suppose Shawn Ramanauskas was engaged in such a practice, as his death came as a result of an unit’s being plugged into an ungrounded, wrongly polarized outlet that was rigged by a handyman. But such an accident does point up the potential dangers salters could encounter.)

Barbara “intent to swill” Mikkelson

Last updated:   11 June 2014


    Holleran, Joan.   “Vending Dynamics.”

    Beverage Industry.   1 May 1996   (p. 40).

    McDonald, B.   “Vendor Vandalism Sparks a Salt Water Solution.”

    Beverage World.   1 February 1991   (p. 57).

    Poovey, Bill.   “Alabama Supreme Court Reduces Award in Vending Machine Case.”

    The Associated Press.   5 March 1999.

    Schabath, Gene.   “Thieves Wade Into State Pop Machines.”

    The Detroit News.   15 June 1994   (p. A1).

    Memphis Democrat.   “Vandals Hit Vending Machines with Out-Dated Scheme.”

    3 May 2007.