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.