Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels

We recently had someone reach out to us asking about the sanitation of hand dryers vs paper towels for drying  hands. I noticed as I recently did some traveling that many airports, restaurants and rest areas are going to air hand dryers rather than paper towels. I’m sure it is beneficial to them as a means to keep their restrooms more tidy.  According to the CDC, drying your hands is very beneficial as germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands. But is it more beneficial to us to use a hand dryer or paper towels?

According to an article in the Harvard Health blog from Harvard Medical School, bacteria in a bathroom can form a fecal cloud due to lidless toilets being flushed. That fecal cloud contains many microbes. Fortunately the majority of those microbes do not cause disease in healthy people. For those people in a hospital or with a weakened immune system though this could be a big problem.

As I was beginning to look for pictures to go along with this article the first place I decided to check was our local clinic. I found only paper towel dispensers there. As I did more research I found that is because paper towels are already routine in health care settings.

As was stated in the CDC article, the best way to dry hands remains unclear because few studies about hand drying exist and the results are unclear. There are many factors involved and of course it depends on who is paying for the study. Many are sponsored by either the paper towel industry or the air blower industry with results of course favoring their products. Some studies focused on the effectiveness of the hand drying, some on the cost, some on the carbon footprint, and some on the degree of which bacteria and viruses are deposited on the hands during the drying process.

The Harvard Health study recommended using paper towels as they found them to be the most hygienic way to dry your hands. Another study agreed suggesting paper towels can dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively and cause less contamination of the restroom environment. That same study found that with air dryers people were more likely to incompletely dry their hands or not dry them at all.

The bottom line is to wash your hands effectively and dry them completely with whatever method is available. Don’t let your hands drip dry and don’t dry them on your clothes.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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9 thoughts on “Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels

  1. Actually, I have both types of hand dryers in my home as well as towels too. It is interesting how I have many options just to dry our hands. I like the hand dryers because they make it so your hand drys faster and you don’t leave residue on the water. I read another blog post and I read those paper towel manufacturers to suggest that hand dryers contribute to the spread of viruses in the bathroom, the truth is that both paper towels and warm air hand dryers offer a hygienic way to dry hands.

  2. Lawrence, prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, air hand dryers and paper towels were considered the most hygenic way to dry hands. In the home, the safety of the air hand dryer is likely not a concern. In a public restroom, the safety of the air dryers is being studied. For the novel coronavirus, data doesn’t yet exist indicating that bathrooms are a place where the virus spreads. What is known is that air blowers circulate all the germs and air particles around. Any type of microbe that has longevity on surfaces is always concerning when blowers move particles that have settled and are not yet wiped down with a bleach wipe or disinfectant specific to the microbe. When a motor blows particles in the air, they become aerosolized particles. Inhaling or touching of the face with the hand provides an entry into the body.

  3. The hand wash issue is very common and very necessary. We have both types of hand dryers in my home as well as towels too. It is interesting how we have many options just to dry our hands. I like the hand dryers because they make it so your hand drys faster and you don’t leave residue on the water. Thank you for the post.

  4. This is a very interesting post! There is an article on our website and it includes a few references which are research work related to hand dryers vs paper towels. Long story short, using paper towels is a better option based on their research.

    The article: https://cozee-bay.com/blogs/cozee-bay-blogs/10-things-to-know-before-buying-a-paper-towel-dispenser

    The research articles:
    1)Susan S. et al, The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods: A Review of the Evidence,Mayo Clin Proc. 2012 Aug; 87(8): 791–798.

    2) Wendy A. Harrison et al, Bacterial transfer and cross-contamination potential associated with paper-towel dispensing, Am J Infect Control2003;31:387-91.

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