Hand Drying: Paper Towel Vs Hand Dryer

Ever wondered what is the best solution for drying your hands after you have gone to the bathroom? What hand drying solution should you provide for your clients or should you give them options?

Well, it depends on your priority.

If you are concerned about your carbon footprint, a blower dryer is better than paper towels.

If you are more concerned about hygiene, paper towels win hands down.

 

Here are some keys points to consider from a carbon footprint perspective:

  • With a traditional hand dryer, a fan blows air across a heating element and onto your hands, evaporating water. Warm hand dryers might encourage microbes to grow because they provide a nice, toasty environment.
  • Jet air dryers aren’t hot. They work by creating a squeegee effect that whisks the water off your skin. That’s why you dip your hands in and out of the air stream. One of the benefits of this new generation of hand dryers is their energy efficiency. They don’t have to heat an element and tend to dry hands faster than a traditional hand dryer.
  • On average paper towels cost 2-3 times as much per month as hot air blowers, and 10-20 times as much as an air blade. In one comparison, paper towels in a heavy use environment would cost $1,460 per year, while an efficient air blade just $48 per year. Upfront costs for the air blade are higher, but they pay for themselves within a few months of heavy use.
  • Paper towels can be made from recycled paper. However, they are compostable but are generally not recyclable. This is partly because they’re treated with chemicals to make them sturdy enough to absorb water without falling to bits, but also because there’s only so many times paper can be recycled before the cellulose fibres that make up the paper are too short to be woven into new products.
  • The method of paper distribution affects the average amount consumed by each user.
  • The source of electricity affects calculations of the carbon footprint.

Here are some keys points to consider from a hygiene perspective:

  • Most studies suggest that paper towels can dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively, and cause less contamination of the washroom environment. From a hygiene viewpoint, paper towels are superior to electric air dryers. Paper towels should be recommended in locations where hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals and clinics.
  • Studies show that 41% of people wiped their hands unhygienically on their clothes. Wet hands spread bacteria much more efficiently than dry hands
  • Jet air and warm air dryers result in increased bacterial aerosolization when hand drying. These results suggest that air dryers may be unsuitable for use in healthcare settings, as they may facilitate microbial cross-contamination via airborne dissemination to the environment or bathroom visitors.
  • Focusing on drying method ignores the issue of how hands are cleaned in the first place. There is clear evidence that washing hands thoroughly with soap is critical to good hygiene. If soap is used, then there is essentially no significant bacteria left to spread to the environment.
  • Hospitals generally use sanitizer, which contains alcohol and is self drying. The CDC recommendseither washing with soap, or using a sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to minimize bacteria. Some studies show that high alcohol content hand sanitizers are superior to hand washing for reducing bacteria. However, hand washing is better for removing dirt.
  • Paper towels doesn’t provide a completely sterile environment. Potentially deadly bugs such as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus were still detected. But when jet hand dryers were used, MRSA popped up three times more often in the UK hospital, and total bacterial levels on the dryers were up to 30 times higher across all the sites compared to bacteria on paper towel dispensers.
  • Paper towels reduce bacteria on hands by up to 77%.
  • A recent study found people had 42% more bacteria on their fingers and 15% more on their palms after using a jet air dryer.
  • The surfaces of jet air dryers have contamination levels 48 times higher than the average toilet seat.
  • Fecal bacteria, E. coli and staph have all been found on jet air dryers.
  • One study found jet air dryers disperse 1300 times more germ particles into the surrounding air than paper towels. Even after 15 minutes, there were still 100 times more particles in the air when using jet air dyers versus single-use paper towels. The way this study was conducted is not true to life.
  • Most of the germ particles that jet air dryers blow into the surrounding air end up at approximately the height of a small child’s face.
  • The World Health Organization and Mayo Clinic support using paper towels over jet air dryers.
  • Consumers prefer paper towels over jet air dryers. A recent observational study found 90% of people using restrooms prefer paper towels when given the choice between single-use paper towels and jet air dryers. The loudness of the electric dryers is a factor in this.

Are there any other hand drying alternatives?

What about those old continuous cotton towel dispensers?

  • About 40 per cent of the carbon dioxide equivalent produced in their lifetime is in materials, manufacturing and transportation.
  • Cotton isn’t the most sustainable crop, and the towels need laundering.
  • What about hygiene? Providing you pull the cloth towel down using a clean part, it is reasonably hygienic.

However, in my research, I couldn’t find anywhere to purchase these.

My compromise is that I have settled for individual face washers that can be used by one person & then put in my laundry. There is no research on this option, but the research to date has been generally funded by either the paper towel industry or the jet hand dryer manufacturers. I am not expecting this to be a focus of any research soon.

 

Sources:

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/air-dryers-vs-paper-towels/

https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-11-07/paper-towels-warm-air-jet-hand-dryers-environment-hygiene/10468580

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538484/

https://www.fpaaust.com.au/scientific-talking-points-paper-towels-vs-jet-air-dryers/

 

 

Interesting article about the history of paper towel, hand dryers & air blades:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/apr/25/hand-dryers-paper-towels-hygiene-dyson-airblade

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